A Reflection on “Her”

I realize this is an incredibly late movie review, but I finally got around to seeing Her last night. I had read some feminist critiques of the movie, which made me, honestly, more interested; how the protagonist doesn’t have to deal with the messy, real-life consequences of an actual relationship, how this is maybe indicative of where we are heading, relationship-wise. I don’t necessarily disagree: there’s some good critical analysis floating around the internet. I guess more than review, it’s kind of a collection of thoughts. Here we go.

Visually, this movie is gorgeous. The color palettes are so bright and interesting; I especially love Theodore’s office, with the bright mobiles and green chairs. The characters exist in a beautifully constructed world; from the tree shadow elevator to Theodore’s apartment, there doesn’t seem to exist a ugly piece of architecture in this near future. Everything is so clean, so pleasant to look at. It made me wonder what has been done about poverty in this world–was it eliminated? Or, more likely, shuffled to somewhere out of sight?

Jonze’s way of shooting flash-backs elicited teary eyes on my part, maybe because how the movie shows flashbacks is how most people experience them–no sound, just the memory, pieced together in a collage kind of way. I love that. Theodore’s memories of his ex-wife especially rang true. Sun-dappled afternoons spent in bed, the breeze blowing through the window. A smile from the one you love, a night you didn’t sleep. It’s always the best memories, of course; when Theo is signing the divorce papers with his former lover, that becomes abundantly clear. He has refused to sign, to hold on to some piece of what they had. But what do they have now? Nothing. 

Juxtapose his failed marriage with his job, which is writing heart-felt letters for other people, and compare it to his relationship with Samantha, the operating system he falls in love with–what is real emotion? Can we even trust ourselves, or others, when it comes to love and all that? Theo married his wife because they loved each other, but it obviously wasn’t enough. Yet these marriages and relationships continue through the letters he writes, and not that these people don’t love each other, but they have hired someone else to write their letters, their stories, for them.  Samantha comes in after Theo has been alone after the marriage fell apart, and she has offered something real for him. And not only real for him, but for her as well; she is self-aware, and wants to learn and grow. What does that leave us with? Samantha isn’t a person, but everything else about her rings true.

The movie was very timely, I think. A reflection on technological advances, to be sure, but more about modern life and the isolation that comes with it. Theo, and others around him, live side by side, not talking to one another. Is this a symptom or a cause of our modern ennui and loneliness? I’m not really sure. 

The Fig Tree

I’ve criminally neglected this blog. 

Since I last wrote, I’ve worked as a college adviser with a state college access program in a rural Missouri town. It’s been a real trip! I’ve lived in Missouri my whole life, yet I’ve always been quite insulated from the rest of the state; the town I grew up and went to college in is mid-sized, liberal city with lots of art and culture. Rural Missouri is quite a different experience, but it is not without it’s joys. 

I’m here another year, then it’s a sharp drop off the cliff of my future. I’m entirely unsure what I will do with myself afterwards. I have grand plans of applying for the Master’s of Public Administration at the University of Washington, but residency takes a year. I’m also looking at the Master’s of Education in Educational Policy at the same school. Other options include applying to college admission rep jobs, The Food Corps, Southern Poverty Law Center, looking for a Planned Parenthood position, and a sundry of Americorps positions. I could travel and WWOOF to earn my way. What may end up happening is that I pack up my stuff, Carl, and Nate, and set my sights on some new horizon, without any solid plans. What frightens me is that there are so may options; I feel like Sylvia Plath with the fig tree.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

This I Know

When I return home from a day at work, and my cat bugs me to cuddle him, it makes me feel important. I feel guilty when I can’t give him enough attention. 

I like really sugary coffee but I try to drink it black to seem cooler than I really am.

My friends are too cool for me, sometimes. The people I want to be friends with are too cool for me.

It feels good to buy things, in a way I don’t like and wish didn’t happen. When I buy things, it reminds me that I have money and I won’t be destitute. But then I feel guilty for feeling good about buying things. And I think about being destitute–where would I go, what would I do?

I’m pretty sure I don’t want kids. If i could guarantee they would turn out cool and kind and great, then maybe.

For some reason, I keep being surprised when people who don’t ‘look’ mean end up being complete assholes. Or when people who are ugly are happy, when people who are poor are gorgeous. I hate myself for thinking these thoughts. 

Sometimes I think about if I would turn to cannibalism if I was desperate enough. I think about nuclear holocaust. I think about plagues and disasters and whether I would try to go on living.

I read old journals and can’t imagine why I felt so strongly about these boys. Boys I don’t even think about anymore were matters of life and death.

I look at pictures of my parents when they were married and try to imagine a time when they were together. I have one of their wedding invitations.

My problems are maudlin and melodramatic; at least that’s how I feel when I’m having a crisis of self in the bath, when I read my favorite book for the 60th time and cry over the same parts I did when I was thirteen.

The Past Is the Past: On Getting Over Stuff

I wish life didn’t necessitate getting over people, or what they have done to you, or what you have done to others. I wish people were all non-shitty, compassionate, and empathetic. That’s not how it works, of course. We have the canon of love songs, and poems, and novels to prove it.

It’s not exactly fun, but something close to gratifying, to hold onto a grudge. To consume yourself with the details of a wrongdoing. You pour over the incident or incidents, you relive these certain moments, you convince yourself that the people you hate are worthy of your hatred. Letting go takes a lot of rational thought, and holding on feels ingrained in our nature. Wallowing around in your own sadness and hate doesn’t feel good, not in the sense that it’s pleasurable. I can’t really describe why it felt good. Holding on, obsessing over the past, felt good to me because I felt like I was in my most primal state. It felt cathartic to go over old pictures, read old journals, to wrap myself up in the comfort of knowing one thing: I hated this person. It felt like diving to a place in myself. We are supposed to be put together, presentable. I was an adult. Obsession made me feel like some masochistic creature, dredged up from the bottom of a cave or the deep sea. I didn’t feel presentable, like an adult human, because having such painful feelings isn’t what we present to the world. You tell people of your obsessive, hurtful, awful hatred and they look worried, awkward. Such uncontrollable emotions are for moody teenagers and small children. We have to keep these things under control.

It’s okay to not have it under control. Because it happens to everyone. We must be allowed our space to scream and claw and howl. Grieving and feeling and being hurt are things we go through, and as humans, we will always have to go through them. It might feel better in the moment to not know pain, to not see someone you love hurt you, to be always happy. The ever-optimistic not only bore me, but anger me. Life is not all comfort, all the time. It’s bullshit to pretend otherwise. I could say something here about the allegorical storm and rainbow, but I’ll spare you. Life is not getting through the tough shit, and then having it all go well. There will be tough shit at every turn, a lot of times wrought by the ones that you love the most. You want to hold onto these grudges, remind those that hurt you how they made you feel. Maybe you will do these things. But at some point, you will become tired of carrying that burden. You will let go not because you have become enlightened suddenly, and realized that your pain wasn’t real, or wasn’t worth it. It’s not because you are suddenly a better person. Only that holding on hurts you, and it’s tiring. You realize there are better things to occupy your mind with.

I didn’t wake up one day and see that my hate was eating away at me, that it wasn’t worth concerning myself with anymore. People around me asked why it mattered so much, asked if it was worth it. My mom said, “The past is the past. It’s over. What’s important now is now.” Nothing incredibly revolutionary, nothing no one has said before or thought. Only that it was a kind of close on a long, winding road of holding onto things I cannot change, and really, wouldn’t change if I could. The hate goes away, and you’re left with a certain kind of peace with the past. Not to mean you weren’t wronged, not to mean you were a bad person for reliving the memories, but choosing not to care anymore.

The Blessing and Curse of Anonymity

You and I will die in anonymity. Not to mean that no one will care when we die, or that we wont break the hearts of those we leave behind; only that, in the grand scheme of things, neither you nor I will leave a mark on this earth once we pass. The vast, vast majority of humans have been born and have died without leaving a lasting impression, at least one that lasted after those that knew them also passed. This lasting impression is reserved for a handful of individuals: infamous dictators, brilliant scientists. But even people who were equally as cruel as Pol Pot, as equally brilliant as Hypatia, have lived and died in obscurity. I can’t figure out if i find comfort in this thought or not. As talented and extraordinary as I think I am, I will never climb the heights of human achievement. That’s fine by me. 

When I’m depressed about the job search, when I feel a sensation of listlessness and unrest, I think about all the people that labored and died without so much as a ceremony to mark their passing. They didn’t leave a unique mark on this world, but were one of many. This somehow makes me feel better; they were like me in the fact that they were average, ordinary people trying to make it through life as painlessly as possible. In their obscurity, they helped shape this world. Of course Marie Curie and The Beatles and Nelson Mandela shifted this world of ours, but ordinary, anonymous people, they have always been the ones keeping the cogs turning, doing the boring, hard work of life. No one knows their name a hundred years, or even 50 years, after passing. This frightens me a bit, sure. Or perhaps more accurately, saddens me. I will be dead, and the person I am will cease to exist. It makes me realize the hard thud of reality; I’m like everyone else, on a biological level, and a  historical level. But people in obscurity, they did their best to live their lives. The people living now, they do the best to enjoy things. We can either get hung up on the fact that no one knows you you are, aside from those people that matter to you. Or just live like the people that came before us lived, and the people that will come after us will live: try to enjoy what you can, and try to not let the fact of your utter insignificance get to you.

Carl the Cat

This is an ode of sorts to my cat Carl. I just came home from a 14 hour shift and I’m exhausted. Every Sunday when I return, Carl demands my attention. He gives me a look that can’t be explained any other way than plaintive. He chirps, sounding maybe a bit mad that I was gone for so long. But he forgives me, and curls up in bed with me, purring loudly.

He loves me and it’s kind of an intense thing, when I think about it. This little creature that depends on me for his survival is very noticeably happy to see me after a long day. He is happy when I play with him. He doesn’t like many people, but he likes me. A lot of the times he’s scared of me, too. He’s very easily frightened. But even when I startle him he comes and cuddles with me in bed and voices his content. 

That’s all I wanted to say. My cat is the best.

Image

Yes, You’re Beautiful. But That’s Not Why I Like You.

I was convinced I was ugly and it was the most shameful thing in the world. Not just ugly, but fat. Fat was the worst thing I could be, and I was ashamed that I had body fat at all. For a young girl, being ugly and fat is the worst fate. Nevermind that I was (and am) pretty clever, and a good friend, and funny. The fear of fat consumed every waking moment. That’s the story of a lot of girls, and while not uncommon, it’s still sad.

But I wasn’t fat. That’s the funny thing. I was very average, if not thin. Looking back on my journals and pictures of myself, I think I must have been blind. I was quite pretty and not fat at all. Pictures of me now are fat. Because now, I am fat. But I don’t have the same rabid fear I once had. I am fat and yet, people still love me. I am sexual. I am fashionable (sometimes). What they tell you, that fat women are inherently unfashionable, unfuckable, and ugly, isn’t true.

It pains me to hear fat jokes and ugly jokes from kids and high-schoolers, but it hurts maybe even more coming from grown adults. Women must be beautiful, before all else. Sure, she can be an accomplished scientist, a good friend, the Secretary of State. But fail to be beautiful, and you have failed as a woman. People say, “oh, you’re not fat, you’re so pretty!” Why can’t I be both? Or maybe I’m not pretty; why does it matter? Yes, you are beautiful, a lot of times in the physical sense, but mostly where it counts.

It’s a good step in the right direction to examine how we see ourselves, like the most recent Dove ad campaign does. But that’s not the last part, not by a long shot. Why do we fear ugly so much? Why do we fear fat so much? Ugly, fat women get a lot more shit then ugly, fat men. The short answer is misogyny. Men can be fat and ugly but still valuable; to be a ‘good’ woman is to be physically attractive first and foremost.

When someone asks if I’m pregnant, or makes a fat joke, I am trying my hardest to change the conversation. If someone asks if I’m pregnant, I usually say, “no, just fat,” trying to state it as fact instead of placing value on the adjective. If someone says, “God, I’m so fat,” or some other derogatory statement about themselves, I try to not jump in and say something like, “you’re not fat at all, you’re so pretty!” I want to say, “Look, you’re not fat. But so what if you were?”  If someone says something like, “she’s so ugly!” I try and respond with something like, “Why is it your business?” This is a work in progress. Sometimes I have nothing witty to say back. And I don’t fool myself into thinking I’m making that big of a impact on the collective self-esteem of women everywhere. I just don’t want women to derive their self-worth from their weight or their face; the establishment certainly isn’t going to accomplish that, so we better try doing it ourselves.

Hometown

There are some days, mostly at night, when I’m driving alone, and something compels me to pass by an old haunt. The houses we grew into. The places where we became people. Nostalgia is maybe the driving force; I don’t know what else to call it. There’s the place I took your virginity. There’s the place you cried on the curb. A house full of events and memories, someplace I used to know, now with someone else’s car out front.

When I drive by, I want to get out and knock and see if a familiar face will be there. I expect a ‘hey’ from everyone in the room and laughter from the kitchen and someone will ask for a beer. Our situations have improved, and there’s the world for our taking. I can’t drink all night and stay up until 3am like I used to, and neither can you. That’s good, right? It means we’re getting more responsible?

Back then I said, I need to get out. I’m saying the same thing now. But seeing where I had my first illicit cigarette and where you kissed me for the first time is a sort of comforting ritual. It’s a painful twinge that sometimes gets to be too much, but it also soothes my panic. I’m tense and jittery, then I drive by an old house, and I feel relief. If I go back enough times, maybe I’ll see you standing on the front porch, and you’ll smile shyly and welcome me inside.

The people in those rooms, maybe they don’t remember, or care. We didn’t change the world in those places; nothing of international significance happened. Just time passing, just people becoming us.

On becoming, and being, a writer

I found some truly inspirational words from advice writer Cary Tennis on writing and being a writer. Thought I would share.

“Some of us will say, “I want to be a writer,” because it would be nice to sit in a cafe and say, “I am a writer sitting in a cafe.” But to become a writer is an act of will and transformation. We look in the mirror, we look at what we are made of, and we say, with this tin, this cheap, durable framework I am made of, with this cheap metal I am made, of I can conjure, I can do magic. I can make something of this cheap metal that is me. What could be more strange and earth-shattering and inexpensive? I am someone of little consequence and no renown yet if I sit in a chair for two hours every morning for the rest of my life I can turn into someone of consequence if not renown or, if nothing else, I can at least turn into someone who sat in a chair for two hours every day of his life…You only have to begin. You only have to begin today, and tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that and every day for the rest of your life. You only have to always be beginning. So that is how it is done. You simply begin.”

 

I have to remember these words. ‘Becoming’ a writer, someone who does it for work, yes, but also someone who does it because they want it so much they can’t stand it, is nothing but beginning. It is nothing but starting. 

I don’t make money on writing creatively, and maybe I never will. It’s a dream I’ve harbored for a long, long time, but as the world changes, and people change, I sometimes wonder if it’s still possible to support myself on something I love to do. I like sharing my opinion, I like reading, I like talking and listening, and all of these joys are part of being a writer. 

I’m not a writer in the sense that I am a best-seller or even that I have a cult following. I’m not a writer even in the sense that I make any money off of it. Just in that I like to write lists, write stories, draw inspiration, and observe. I must do more. I must move more to write more.

To be, we must begin. 

Bloggin’ Bout True/False: Part Three: Leviathan

True/False is a documentary film festival in its 10th year that plays in my hometown of Columbia, Missouri. I, humble blogger, will write about the movies I see during my whirlwind tour of the festival. 

Sometimes, I don’t ‘get’ art, and I feel hopelessly left out of the mix. I felt that way when viewing the film Leviathan. Before the showing, the directors received the prestigious True Vision Award. I am not to say that they didn’t deserve it. It was indeed an entirely new experience in film. Maybe I’m just not cool enough to ‘get’ it?

The film was shot on a commercial shipping vessel with relatively simple equipment. The camera starts off by showing us the incredibly loud process of bringing in a catch, and after the first 10 minutes of no narrative or dialogue, I realized that this is how the rest of the film would be. The fishermen, when they do speak, are barely audible. I did like the scenes with them more than the others; crusty, hairy, rough around the edges men, smoking, working, going about their days. The majority of the scenes, however, did not focus on them. They were scenes in which dead fish sloshed up in front of the camera, surrounding it with a wet sucking noise. The audience sees the blood and guts of the fish spilling over into the ocean. We see the fishing net being drug in, and the night is so black that you’re unable to tell what is the sea and what is the sky.

It was visually interesting, if not beautiful. It was chaotic, with no particular forward moving plot and no characters. It’s a documentary in only the strictest sense of the word–it documented what happened, yes, but why? I felt no purpose behind it, and maybe that’s my own fault. I sat their thinking, “Is this is?” Several people left during the showing, perhaps due to the shaking camera work and deafening noise. I really did feel like I was on a ship, right down to feeling sea sick. Maybe that’s how I was supposed to feel. As an art film, it achieved the purpose of being visually stimulating and really immerses the audience in the experience. As a documentary, however, I didn’t think it achieved teaching me anything, or making me want to learn more. I guess I might be just hopelessly uncool.