Saturday, February 6, 2010


I've met and worked with and partied with, and more, a lot of movie and literary and artworld and political and etc. "stars"—and among them I have found people who just transcend all those categories and hit me with an almost spiritual force. As though they somehow embody what is most human about humanity at its best.

I know a lot of people who aren't "stars" in any conventional media way but who are nonetheless so exceptional in their vocations or avocations or life choices or any number of things that they too stand out among the rest of us and embody what is best about our species.

There's a point I'm leading up to that begins with watching Clare Danes in the role of TEMPLE GRANDIN, the autistic woman who became a genius designer of humane cattle slaughtering environments (if that isn't a contradiction, she feels it isn't) and an example of what some autistics could achieve, and lectures on the topic, in fact is a professor and expert on both subjects.

Danes gives an amazing performance, as she always has since I first saw her on MY SO-CALLED LIFE as a young actress. I had the great gift of reading with her in that Hollywood themed benefit for The Bowery Poetry Club last Spring and getting a chance to at least exchange compliments at the party afterward (I can't believe I didn't spend more time talking to her, but I have always been surprisingly shy when it comes to some people).

TEMPLE GRANDIN is an HBO movie I watched tonight, and at times found difficult to watch and had to cut away. That seems to still be part of the impact of my brain surgery, finding it difficult to watch certain films because they make me too anxious. I always had a touch of that. For instance I almost never watch episodic TV, but especially so-called "sit-coms" because inevitably there comes a moment when this genre demands a scene which makes me feel so embarrassed for the participants in the scene—not just the actors but the characters they're playing—that I have to get up and move around, often out of the room.

And even as a child I could not take horror films and missed most of the classic ones until I caught them at revival houses or on TV and could watch them as a film buff rather than as the reality they are. But even then I still couldn't watch nor did I want to watch most of them. Just a handful.

The few contemporary ones I've watched in theaters because someone talked me into it, I've become so agitated during the film it would disturb others and afterwards I often couldn't control my rage. I thought at the time that this was simply a proper response to such manifestations of evil, no matter how artfully done, but I realize since the operation, it's the way I'm wired, as they say.

And since the brain surgery, the kinds of movies that I can't watch has only increased. And I identify it to some extent with the kinds of responses some autistics have to certain stimuli, especially since right after the operation I could hardly stand much stimuli at all. And even now, twelve weeks later, the limits to what I can take are much more circumscribed than before.

So having already felt enormous sympathy and empathy for the real Temple Grandin since the first time I heard about her in an NPR special what seems like many years ago, I felt even more understanding for her as played by Danes in this HBO special. In fact I shed quite a few tears throughout the movie but especially at the end when she stands up and articulates to the parents of autistic children what it feels like to be one of those children.

There's a lovely performance by Julia Ormond as her mother (which seemed generationally incorrect because I still think of Ormond as the sensitive young actress who first impressed me and she's still as beautiful). Most of the other performances I dug too. There were some plot devices that could have been done better and things I might have liked to have seen done differently. But the courage of Danes' performance and the quality of it was so mesmerizing and rewarding, I felt no one could have done it better.

She and Grandin are those kinds of people, the ones I was writing about at the start, that make you think, or at least me think, oh man, this is the best humanity can aspire to in this situation under these circumstances facing these challenges with these givens. Two amazing women.


Elisabeth said...

Your post is a tribute to these two women, Michael but equally it's a tribute to you. Your ability to reflect on your own experience and process both before and after your surgery is inspirational.

harryn said...

beautiful, and "gettin' better all the time" ...

Lally said...

Thank you both. And as to your question yesterday E., about if anyone else sees the changes in me, some do, some don't. And as they're ongoing more will be revealed.

Anonymous said...

I heard Temple Grandin speak at a conference on autism. She is amazing in that she is an expert in two fields, animal husbandry and autism. Her knowledge of research in the field of autism is amazing. She is extremely articulate but always directly to the point, and always totally forthcoming on how she experiences autism. Definitely as you say, she is an example of the best humanity has to offer. Thank you for talking about her. I can't wait to see how Claire Danes portrays her.
Chris M.

Lisa O. said...

friday was my 16 week anniversary. (after brain surgery i still count in weeks, like i counted my kids' ages instead of months). my experience is that the differences i experience at first are extremely internal. they become external when i tell people. it's just become so obvious to me that there is no way you stay the same after someone takes part of your brain out. again, to illustrate its complicated nature..."it's not brain surgery." --Lisa O.

Doug Lang said...

Michael, I was blown away by Temple Grandin and I love your post. I recorded the movie three times today, after it showed up at On Demand, for people who I know will relate to it very well. Aside from the virtues that you describe so well, I think the film also functions as a kind of metaphor for all hypersensitive people. Both Temple Grandin and Claire Danes are truly heroic, and so are you.

Lally said...

Doug, I don't know about me being "heroic"—but happy to see you here.