The occasional observations of Carolyn Kephart, writer

Friday, January 11, 2008


10:31 AM PST, January 11, 2008

I've always loved those black and white movies from the 30s and 40s where men wear hats and women wear gloves, and where dead bodies, if they're around at all, are never shown.

One of my favorite moments in It's A Wonderful Life happens early on, when Mary (Donna Reed) receives a letter at the prom, then instantly turns to the people at her table and asks, in the most winningly natural tone, "May I?" before opening the envelope.

James M. Barrie best defined the essence of this compelling quality, charm: "It's a sort of bloom on a woman. If you have it, you don't need to have anything else; and if you don't have it, it doesn't much matter what else you have."

When I think of charm in a man, I remember Humphrey Bogart's rare, boyish, dazzling smile.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

This Sense Most Essential

4:58 PM PST, January 5, 2008

For sheer utter torment that teaches a lesson, a speck of grit under a contact lens can really be an eye-opener.

I have extreme congenital myopia, near-sightedness so bad that without glasses and contact lenses life’s one big blur. If you sat three feet away from me and grinned your widest, I wouldn’t be able to gauge your facial expression with my naked eyes. It amazes me that people can wake up in the morning and actually see the world around them clearly from the get-go.

Back in the days when my condition wasn’t correctable, history suffered—the emperor Nero, whose well-documented affliction made him paranoid to the point of insanity, is a notable example. Even when remedies came along, rulers didn’t use them since use implied weakness, and thus Louis XVI, though expert at the meticulous craft of locksmithing (he could focus to a couple of inches, as I can), had no way of judging the expressions on the faces of his courtiers or the citoyens, with disastrous results; it didn’t help that his wife Marie Antoinette was blind to all save her flatterers. Robert B. Edgerton, writing about the Crimean War in his book Death or Glory, notes that “Eyeglasses were worn by a few officers at this time, but many hopelessly near-sighted officers were so vain that they chose to do without them”—certainly an enhancement to calamity. In the present day it’s by no means unusual, so I hear, for near-sighted members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) to forego their wonted eyewear during re-enactments no matter what; I can only imagine how many tent-ropes get tripped over.

I’d probably have been a very different, no doubt happier person had I been born with perfect vision, but time has made me a counter of blessings. Bad sight beats none at all, and a childhood as Four Eyes made me fulfill the stereotype to the hilt, giving me the infinite world of books in return. As the old song has it, wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.


Thursday, January 03, 2008

If Beauty Is Difficult, Then...

5:36 PM PST, January 3, 2008

One of the first phrases I learned long ago when taking classical Greek was Plato's Χαλεπὰ τὰ καλά, beauty is difficult. Those words mean more to me the longer I live, and I considered them yet again on this first day of yet another new year.

If beauty -- meaning the search for it, and the understanding of it, and the love for it -- is indeed difficult, does that mean that the reverse is true as well, and that ugly is easy?


If you write, as I do, try writing something really disgusting sometime. Plumb your seamiest depths and just have at it. You'll be astonished, perhaps frightened, at how effortless it is, how the words gush like a burst sewer onto the page. Your gorge will be rising in no time, and you'll turn away shuddering at the wrong you did to your soul. If you don't, I pity you with all my heart.