Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Tempest of a Lady: Elizabeth Taylor

I've never seen "National Velvet," that paragon of little girls' slumber party entertainment. I've never seen "Cleopatra" or "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," either - I think, soon, I will. The truth is that Elizabeth Taylor was so much a larger-than-life figure that for me, who grew up in her twilight years, she was already ubiquitous.

Though her Shakespearean contributions most famously included "The Taming of the Shrew," Elizabeth Taylor was her own personal Tempest. She redefined femininity in the twentieth century. She redefined a lot of things: what it mean to be a lady, what it meant to be married, what it meant to be fashionable, what it meant to support a cause. She was a Leading Lady in life.

Taylor's gentle youthfulness in films like the first one I saw her in - "Little Women" - lent charm to early photos that captured a beauty unsullied by heartache and tragedy. One journalist speculated that if her beloved husband had not been killed in a plane crash, she might never have had that infamous series of marriages.

She brought all this to bear in roles as raw as Virginia Woolf - a truly brilliant performance.

A woman who could easily have succumbed to bitterness - and photos from several years suggest she walked that line - Taylor instead turned her furies to humanitarian work. Whatever she did, she was a fierce storm, no matter how unexpected the direction - as when she was godmother to Michael Jackson's children.

Part of Elizabeth Taylor's glamour consisted of the way she deconstructed what it meant to be a lady, in a time when many actresses, like her friend Debbie Reynolds, portrayed a staunchly iconic image.

From a young age, I admired Elizabeth Taylor - partly because I liked sharing her name. Partly because she embodied old Hollywood beauty and glamour. Partly because she was a novelty to a rural, small-town girl (eight husbands??). I was probably the youngest fan of her "White Diamonds" perfume in existence.

It's hard to find a modern actress with which to compare Taylor. So many drown in self-doubt or over-expose. But her besetting fault was also her gift: Invictus-like, she lived with confidence, chips fall where they may. Taylor was never a size zero actress fretting on talk shows about her Pilates workouts. She knew how to maintain her mystique. Perhaps Kate Winslet's passionate emotion captures a glimmer of Taylor; perhaps Angelina Jolie's darker shades reflect the pain that informed Taylor's performances, as well as her humanitarian efforts.

But Elizabeth Taylor will remain untouchable as an on- and off-screen tempest. Remember why her career is so storied by tuning in to Turner Classic Movies on April 10, which will run a 24-hour memorial tribute, including some of Taylor's most famous films.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sharing: God, Myers-Briggs, and Self-Sacrifice

Recently, a friend commented on the links I constantly email her. Something like, "hey crazy, you always find the randomest things" or "hey crazy, you're always hooking me up with weird news" or "hey crazy..." I don't remember, I just have the vague impression of an implied "hey, crazy!"

The point is, I share. If I see an interesting story online - because I do like to take the pulse of the internet regularly - I email it to whatever friend might find it intriguing, or helpful, or bizarre, or hilarious.

It's what I do.

Now, I also engage in actual communication with friends. It's not a substitute for Real Relationship. I just like passing on info, whether it's an article on zombies and Lent (yep. exists.) or a recipe for Guinness ginger cake (if you're on a diet, no, no, of course that doesn't exist).

I think this habit relates to my Super Ultra Comprehensive Inventory. You know, the virtual one in my head, where I compile years of results of Myers-Briggs personality type indicators, spiritual gifts inventories, multiple intelligence theory rubrics, learning style analyses, and DISC leadership style tests. And those don't even begin to touch the "what notable historical figure would you be?" Facebook quizzes.

I'm always highly verbal, interpersonal and intrapersonally aware, encouraging, dominant or influencing, visual, intuitive, teaching, judging (it's a type, a swear!), and my spatial intelligence is somewhere around minus 1,000.

It's the book of me.

Except, of course, it isn't.

Because people are always changing; people are always hidden in some way - staying barely unknowable; and people are infinitely unique.

I know: psychological profiling is helpful insofar as people fit broad categories, or even specific categories, in general. In general, I will never employ my physical senses to interpret information before I intuit it. My friend Angie will. I never will. I will read an expression before I hear literal meaning of spoken words. That's part of what God knit together in my mother's womb, fearfully and wonderfully.

But what we do with what God gave us - that always changes, day to day. We lean in to God's vision of who we are called to be more or less on any given day - that creative masterpiece God had in mind when, in the dark galaxy of a warm womb, we grew. There are some corners of our souls no one but God will ever know, that no profile or quiz or inventory can quantify.

No matter how much I share, part of me is infinitely hidden. The still, small part vulnerable to a Creator who knew me as an idea, a future, a not-yet. This corner of my soul God knows as a parent knows a child, a parent who has gotten up a thousand times in the middle of the night to clean soiled laundry, stinking waste, with love, as if it were the treasure others could never know.

Share as much as I will, I reserve. Which is part of a truth I've long observed: talkative people keep secrets easily, because everyone assumes that because you talk a lot, you say all you know. When, in fact, it's all that much easier to conceal.


But sharing with God is infinitely harder than sharing with friends. At least, it can be. I reserve parts of my soul for God alone, hidden thoughts, like Mary, who "kept these things and pondered them in her heart."

Our human tendency is to hide our inmost selves from God - vain impulse that it is. When God comes walking in the garden, we hide. We make our excuses. We do not share. We do not commune. We do not chat. We promise to return the call.

In fact, God saw it was not good for man to be alone. We need people to email links to. We need flesh and blood to know us.

But that hidden part, unrevealed through texts or Tweets or pen and ink or stone and chisel - it is only known by Shared Flesh - this is my Body, broken for you - by Shared Blood - this is my Blood, poured out. 

We can share with God the Father because God the Son shared with us, shared our skin and organs and all. Shared our pain. Our suffering. Our grief.

Not only did Jesus reveal the nature of God to us - Jesus allowed us to reveal our inmost being. Our Truly Human.

From this place of being known, we can know others' suffering without drowning in it. Others share their pain with us and we remember Emmanuel, God Who Shares.

We need to be known. We need to be infinitely hidden. We need to Share.

AP and Reuters photos.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Burst of Color

The economic mood matches wide swathes of American landscape: brown, grey, invisible under stubborn mounds of snow, dormant. At one point, being dormant means quiet growth deep down, unseen but stirring. Every winter, though, dormancy becomes stale, and we grow impatient for signs of life. We need a burst of color.

In the Southern climate I peek out at from my window, there are a few early daffodils flaunting their arrival, like the first stars to step out onto the red carpet, eager. Down the street a - dogwood? - is wearing a beautiful gown of pink and white, fluffy and elegant and romantic, a sure classic.

But the rest of the world waits, because at this time in winter - even though our lifetimes ingrain in us the truth of spring - at this time in winter, it seems spring will never come again. An Ecclesiastical thought, perhaps, but it is difficult in frost and ice and death to believe that maybe, this year, Aslan will be on the move. We wait for a burst of technicolor, an Oz for the faith that awakens us from black and white Kansas.

You can't own color, you know. You can own red blankets or green houseplants or yellow cushions or purple paint, but you can't own color. You can create with it and arrange it and display it, but no one owns periwinkle. We receive color, as John the Revelator did, attempting to describe as best he knew how the Oz of the senses, in terms of lapis lazuli and pearl and gold and ruby - colors that hold light and shine them back in your face.

Thank you, God, for color.
For pale yellow banana,
Deep teal lake bottoms,
Flirtatious pink blossoms,
Rowdy orange bursts.

Thank you, God, for color -
when gloom clouds our eyes,
sadness weighs our faces,
bad news hunches our shoulders,
weariness stills our hands.

Thank you, God, for color -
That wakes our sepia dreams,
That displays the truth of spring,
That calls us to create,
That welcomes us to heaven.

"Firmament II" by Angela Nicole Lister,