By Robert Lowell
What was is . . . since 1930;
the boys in my old gang
are senior partners. They start up
bald like baby birds
to embrace retirement.
At the altar of surrender,
I met you
in the hour of credulity.
How your misfortune came out clearly
to us at twenty.
At the gingerbread casino,
how innocent the nights we made it
on our Vesuvio martinis
with no vermouth but vodka
to sweeten the dry gin--
the lash across my face
that night we adored . . .
soon every night and all,
when your sweet, amorous
Fertility is not to the forward,
or beauty to the precipitous--
things gone wrong
with gold leaf.
I catch my mind
circling for you with glazed eye--
my lost love hunting
your lost face.
Summer to summer,
the poplars sere
in the glare--
it's a town for the young,
they break themselves against the surf.
No dog knows my smell.
Michael Dirda wrote a review in Sunday's Washington Post Book World on Words in Air, the complete correspondence between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. Lowell and Bishop met in 1947 and soon "were corresponding regularly, discussing each other's work, their mutual acquaintances and almost everything, except their very deepest troubles...both were absolutely superb letter writers, mutually admiring, each clearly striving to out-entertain the other...after acquiring a mynah bird, Bishop announces that she's teaching it to say, 'I too dislike it' -- the famous opening words of Marianne Moore's 'Poetry.'"
I had a quiet Monday -- I had plans to have lunch with gblvr and David Tennant (well, he wasn't coming to lunch, unfortunately -- we were going to watch Casanova), but she was feeling terrible, so we postponed. Instead I futzed with photos for a while, read about the expected yet sad demise of Mars Phoenix (who could conceivably turn back on in the spring, but they don't expect that) and Eliot Spitzer not being charged (*snickering*), talked to my mother about the best places online to look up movie details and order used books. When he got home, Adam taught me some Chinese. *g* And several people linked me to this utterly awesome story about a penguin with a stuffed animal sibling.
Watched Sarah Connor, which was gimmicky, though it had wonderful Day of the Dead visuals and Latino music -- I'm already very tired of gunfights in slo-mo while music plays, and I'm already tired of the John rebels-Sarah is right-John feels terrible pattern, but it's not nearly as annoying as Heroes...can we please have the real Angela Petrelli back, the one from the first season? I know some people aren't liking this season because it's too convoluted or unfunny or whatever, but I can describe what I hate about it very simply: too many simpering passive girly-girl women, even ones we originally knew to be completely different people! I'm glad we got a bit of backstory on Meredith, but there, too, it's all family-first. And then there's Boston Legal, which I may be too angry to write about so I might interrupt myself. Apparently Shirley is not interesting enough to keep consistent and intelligent as a character; she must be hurled aside in favor of David E. Kelley's preachifying the same way that Denny is, except that Denny's SUPPOSED to be crazy.
I was so delighted, when I saw the preview last week suggesting that they were going to deal with teen pregnancy and parental consent laws, because it never occurred to me that they were going to fling that topic to the side to go on about a different topic and one on which everyone on the planet with a brain is already on Kelley's side: the termination of female fetuses by families that want a boy. It's fine with me, of course, if Kelley wants to go on a rant about how parents in China and India are still choosing to terminate girls far more often than boys, though comparing the termination of any pregnancy, even multiple female pregnancies, to the Holocaust pisses me off immensely -- no one is trying to wipe every female off the face of the earth, and in cultures like one where some people still try to practice suttee despite centuries of a majority trying to eradicate it, the killing of women doesn't begin or end prenatally.
And tying sex selection to abortion in general is like arguing that people shouldn't be allowed to buy Advil because they might use it to overdose and kill themselves, and having SHIRLEY be the one trying to stop a specific girl from terminating a specific pregnancy because Shirley has concluded that she knows best...she sounds like various pro-life shrikes I've met who had abortions in their twenties and then decided in their fifties that it was Wrong and Evil, now that they've had education and family and spiritual awakening and haven't lived with the regret of giving up a child for adoption or raising a child on welfare or watching a child be abused...I won't go on, I just figured I had better mention it since neither Shirley nor Alan can be arsed to do so in their "it's all about my personal angst!!!" approach to discussing reproductive rights. It's always about Alan's personal angst, but who the fuck is this character Candice Bergen is playing?
Let me talk first about the other case of the episode, which I suspect was intended as comic relief but in some ways is a much fairer look at a difficult social issue, namely, how the effects of being bullied can last just as long and be just as devastating in adulthood for men as the pro-life shrikes in this episode insist the tragedy of abortion can be for women. (I'm angry, did I mention?) Jerry and Katie go to get breakfast when Jerry accidentally bumps into a guy in line who calls him "some demento and his nurse." Furious, Jerry hurls his muffin at the guy, and when the guy dives forward like he's going to attack Jerry, Jerry makes a fist and knocks the guy out. Astonished at having defended himself, Jerry then does a victory dance. Cut to Jerry in prison, unrepentant. He insists to Katie that he can represent himself, though Carl wants to defend him -- a conviction for aggravated assault could affect his bar status.
The victim, Hellman, claims that he never called Jerry "demento," which leads to Jerry stamping and calling him a liar while the guy says he's never been in trouble and he's the one with the broken nose. Questioned against her will by the prosecution, Katie is forced to admit that Jerry gloated after knocking Hellman out, and Jerry is irate, claiming Katie was trying to get him convicted. He is equally angry when Alan tells Jerry that he should have let Carl represent him, and bonks his head against Denny just for being there, at which point Denny pulls out his paintball gun and shoots Jerry. Katie tells Jerry she would not commit perjury for him and calls his behavior grotesque -- she thinks he owes her an apology for putting her in danger with his recklessness. Later, when both are calmer, she tells Jerry that he simply cannot claim the man had it coming; adults must respond as adults to altercations.
In his closing, Jerry gets up with his hands on his thighs, paces, pops, jitters and looks like the character we first met, not the new, more confident Jerry. He explains that he has Aspergers as well as a range of personality development issues and tells the jury that bullying stays with a person forever -- most victims cower and run away, which he always did, but this time the abuse happened in front of someone he was close to. So he did something he thought he was incapable of doing and threw a punch, for the first time in his picked-on life standing up for himself, and "by some miracle the bully went down." And it was joyous: though he would take back the celebration, he admits tearfully that would never take back the punch. The jury finds him not guilty. Jerry thanks Katie for her lecture; she invites him to dinner and tells him not to gloat further in front of Hellman. I'm not sure I believe the verdict because I'm really not sure how I'd have voted on that jury, given the information presented on the stand as opposed to what we saw happen as viewers in the coffee shop. Not a top trigger issue, perhaps, but god knows we see this come up with celebrities punching photographers and kids punching peers...when has one been bullied so much that a physical response should be counted as self-defense rather than assault?
The abortion storyline starts off by trying to declare itself crack. Kim comes in asking for a lawyer while Denny is showing off a froufrou cowboy hat with a purple tie as well as his guns; Denny jokes that they want to take back her gold medal but she's really 16, to which Kim replies that she's 15, and pregnant; her father's dead, her mother won't consent because she's very pro-life, and since Kim is underage, she needs permission from a judge. Denny says that he likes to pretend everything he says and does is on television, she he wants to know: "Who's gonna watch a show about abortion? It's not fun." Alan says they'll make it fun, to which Denny replies, "If we help her get an abortion, she'll burn in hell...I can hear them changing the channel." Cut to commercial. In fairness, I can't think of another show that has tackled this subject at all without a cop-out ending where the girl has a miscarriage or decides to keep the baby, so I won't make a comment about women's lives vs. ratings. Yet.
Alan thinks he needs to find the right judge to win this case and wants Shirley to sit with him on the case, but he doesn't expect two obstacles. The first, predictably, is Denny, who says the baby's rights are more important than the client's rights, mocks Alan for using a sanitary term like "procedure" instead of "abortion," and saying that liberals cling to Roe v. Wade so they feel validated in supporting something they don't fully believe in. (Could we please say "liberal men," Mr. Kelley, since that's who you mean?) The second, more surprisingly, is Shirley, who says that this feels like a family matter to her; when Kim's mother asks Alan whether he has ever had a child of his terminated and knows how haunting it is, Shirley is the one who flinches. She claims from personal experience that it's true no one ever gets over an abortion, no matter how pro-choice they might be.
Please note: Shirley doesn't want to be on this case in the first place. A few more lawyers like her and a few more doctors refusing to terminate pregnancies even if they threaten a woman's life because it's against their religion, and we're going back to the era of the coat hanger and the dead teenage girls. No matter how pro-life she may claim to be, Shirley does not respect this girl's choice from the very beginning, even when the girl (who is of course written as precocious and extremely verbally adept) asks, "Are you saying underage girls should be forced to carry a baby to term if the parent so orders, Mrs. Schmidt?" and says she came to the U.S. to be with mother and become a citizen in a country that prioritizes individual freedoms: "My understanding is that attorneys are in the business of safeguarding those freedoms."
Privately, Alan tells a skeptical Shirley that while he has never experienced the physical aspect of having an abortion, he has experienced the grief, the doubt, and the guilt. Shirley thinks perhaps they should both get off the case, but Alan reminds her that a young girl has come to them for help to fight for a legal right that they both believe in. And have exercised, apparently! Nothing makes me angrier than when women who have had abortions decide that's not a choice other women should be allowed to make! Alan says he fears Roe v. Wade being chipped away, but I'm not sure what message the producers are trying to convey by having "The Times They Are A-Changin'" playing -- that the era in which Americans won reproductive rights is a-passin'?
They get the woman judge, Peyton, and when the mother talks about how Kim is immature and fickle in her interests and beliefs, the girl asks to respond. "I know I'm just a kid. I had unprotected sex; what better example is there of immaturity?" she asks. She also knows her family is poor, she knows the welfare statistics for unwed mothers...Alan didn't coach her on any of this stuff. The judge says that the girl strikes her as conscientious, but she needs time to adjourn and consider. As they leave, the mother tells Alan to talk to the girl, because he has no idea what's really going on. When Shirley tells Carl that the girl seems to unconflicted -- her exact phrase is "struggle-free" -- Carl points out that a girl raised in China was probably raised to believe female infanticide is acceptable, so if the girl has had an ultrasound, that probably affected her decision. The idea that all Chinese-American girls are such slaves to Chinese tradition that they must be protected from themselves -- even a not-very-traditional girl who got pregnant and got herself a lawyer -- is so offensive that I won't even get started. I don't even think we're supposed to think Carl believes it; Carl is just being used as a plot device here, just like Shirley throughout the episode.
So of course Shirley looks up Chinese abortion statistics, and then, with fetal sonogram images on her computer screen, interrogates Kim on whether she's having an abortion because the baby is a girl. The girl says that she doesn't know the sex and moreover that her reasons for wanting to terminate the pregnancy are not relevant beyond the fact that she's a teenager and unfit to be a mother. In court, as the judge is explaining to the mother that she won't make an unwilling girl carry a pregnancy to term, Shirley gets up and announces that Kim intends to terminate the pregnancy because the child is female. Over Kim's objections, with both Kim and the judge telling Shirley she's out of line, Shirley goes on at length about abortions performed because females are considered inferior in various countries and she won't sit still for this holocaust of females. Fine: then leave the fucking room, Shirley. Kim, of course, sits meekly and looking guilty through the speech, so Kelley can rationalize HIS anti-abortion message by pretending it's about sex selection halfway around the globe.
The judge, at least, promptly asks Shirley if she's suggesting that the government investigate every woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy in order to judge her reasons. Shirley's ego trip seems to have decided her: Kim, the judge announces, is mature enough to make her own decisions, so a judicial bypass is granted, and Kim rather than her mother can choose whether or not to terminate the pregnancy. Naturally, they don't tell us whether she did; when Denny asks Alan on the balcony, Alan says he doesn't know. Naturally too, he's angsty after that little show by Shirley, written to make all the liberal men in the audience feel better about secretly seeing a woman as a womb -- hey, Alan and Denny have already admitted they see women mostly as tits and ass, why not uterus as well?
Alan is fretting that "from a scientific and human perspective, it's hard to argue that life doesn't begin at conception." Denny asks him sympathetically how many procedures he was a part of. "Two." "And they haunt you?" "They weigh on me." Hey, Alan, I have a suggestion: if you want to be absolutely certain of never getting a woman pregnant when she doesn't want to be pregnant, THEN STOP TRYING TO HAVE MEANINGLESS SEX WITH EVERYONE FROM SHIRLEY TO DENISE TO MARLENE TO OH GOD I CAN'T EVEN REMEMBER HOW MANY.
Just to get us back to Liberal Ground Zero, Denny asks if Alan really thinks Roe will be overturned and Alan talks about what a hypocrite Sarah Palin is, so far as pregnant teenagers are concerned. And then they go off on an incredibly weird aside about how a lot of people who would have become criminals in the '90s were aborted in the '70s. Um, so Roe is contributing to eugenics and that's a good thing? Denny of course is pleased to hear that legalized abortion might bring down the crime rate, but it doesn't make Alan feel any better about the poor innocent babies he'll never have.
I would like to note that if it had been old white guy Carl all along trying to derail the case by harping on Chinese abortion statistics, rather than Shirley, I would probably feel vastly better about this episode, because the implication would be that it IS old white guys who perform this kinds of convoluted justification to stop abortion even as they claim to respect individual women's choices and lives. Coming out of Shirley's mouth, it's just disgusting and I will never be able to look at her the same way again. Denny may claim that Alan is clinging to Roe v. Wade to rationalize abortion, but it's really Shirley who's rationalizing, looking for any excuse to foist her beliefs on others, even if it means stereotyping and tossing aside the actual beliefs and wishes of a Chinese-American girl. David E. Kelley, take your liberal guilt and shove it up your ass and let it gestate there, and if it ever threatens your life, then you can have an opinion on who has the right to decide whether it should be terminated.