Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stupid Boys Ruin Great Moments. (Or My Displeasure at and Underwhelmed Reception to My Current Artistic Obsession.)

I think everybody finds an artist that really speaks to them and becomes somewhat obsessed. I've had several of these: sometimes musicians, sometimes writers, sometimes film makers. It is as if they can do no wrong; everything you take in seems absolutely genius. As they speak somehow directly to your soul you want to share them with all the world and have everyone be as impressed as you are. It's always stunning to find out that other people aren't nearly so blown away, or that they're totally indifferent to being introduced to anything new.

As if my facebook and blog posts aren't indicative of this fact, I have fallen madly in love with Josh Ritter's music. During an incredibly rough year, I can honestly say that there have been times when the only thing that has brought me any happiness is his music. I sound like a teenager making that statement. I sound like someone in high school that's bought a new album and makes everyone listen to it in silence, absorbing every single note with high reverence. It's not like that. I will freely admit that I feel I've found an incredible poet that tells lovely stories with beautiful phrases. The images he uses may not always be pleasant, but they paint pictures that I've not found in other music for a long, long time -- maybe ever. Is there a lyric that gives you a more precise example than this?

My orchestra is gigantic
This thing could sink the Titanic
And the string section's screaming
Like horses in a barn burning up

The first time I ever heard his music was as the closing song of a Bored to Death episode. The song was "Long Shadows." I realized as I listened to it that the selfless speaker was my boyfriend. He was the man that was unafraid of all the darkness in my life, someone ready to protect me from whatever may come my way. The line "If you reach for him and honey he's not there, you can reach for me, I'm not afraid of the dark," was especially profound. I was in the unique situation of trying to reconcile and repair severe hurt from a relationship that had ended very badly nearly 15 years before. The old boyfriend meant nothing to me, but the pain I'd endured was almost as much a part of me as it ever had been. Social media brought him back into my life, along with a resurgence of the pain I associated with him. Trying to reconcile my hurt feelings was never about desire to rekindle any romance; it was solely about finally having a real opportunity to move beyond what had broken my heart so many years before. My current boyfriend understood this completely. It wasn't an issue. There was never even a conversation about it; he knew me so very well that all intent and purpose was clear without verbal explanation. When this song played, I was stunned by how it captured our relationship with an eloquence I never could have provided. I said to him, "My God. This song is all about you. It's all about how much you love me." The boyfriend said, "I'm going to go downstairs to have a cigarette and get something salty. Would you pause it before the next episode comes on?" Any mitigating circumstances that made this reaction acceptable are not important. What is important is this: the beautiful, profound moment was ruined completely.

Anytime someone is on your mind a lot, you will find that there is reason to associate them with anything and everything. I get this. There are two songs, however, that I absolutely associate with a dear friend. One is ""Monster Ballads," and the other is "Moon River." There are lots of little details that provide associations with "Monster Ballads," though most people wouldn't see them. "Moon River," has always been almost a magical song for me, though. I think it's almost a requisite that all females adore Audrey Hepburn, especially as the flawed but lovely Holly Golightly. Before seeing the film, I loved the song, considering it a wonderful contemplation of the wide world waiting to be explored with an ever-present someone, standing beside you physically or in spirit. I finally saw Breakfast at Tiffany's at a revival house with a burgeoning friend to boyfriend situation. The song is an instant snap back to the cotton candy hazy delight of that first date. The boyfriend came and went, but the intense sentiment of the song was never sullied. I considered the lyrics and created my own definition of a huckleberry friend. It was George Peppard adoring Audrey Hepburn. What others saw as flaws he saw as frailties she valiantly tried to overcome. A huckleberry friend was one that stood with you in the rain, searching for Cat, never telling you he told you so. This was the person that needed no words; they got you through pure connection that naturally occurred. To hear a new friend casually call me his "huckleberry" was jarring. I already felt like he could burrow into my thoughts and unravel ideas that no one could possibly know. Now I understood why paranoid people where tin foil hats. There wasn't any possible "tell" with this; my benign thoughts were so unimportant I'd never voiced them to anyone. Clearly, though, this idea meant a great deal to me. I asked, "Why do you use that phrase?" and he said, "It means that you're the right one for the job; you're the right one to be my forever friend." It was a totally innocuous exchange, but it was one that floored me. Yes; this is all coincidence. We apply these big, fanciful meanings to simple, throw-away statements. Moments of eerie similarities are really just random commonalities. They don't mean that you are genuinely guaranteed a forever friend that will be your constant. But goddamn. You have to admit, this exchange was pretty remarkable for two people that scarcely knew one another. This very lengthy back story does have a Josh Ritter connection: Flipping through YouTube videos I was delighted to find his version of "Moon River." The spoken intro talks of his association between the song and Mark Twain, the same association I'd always made. Two songs, two strong associations with my best friend. I've shared both of these with him. I didn't expect him to pore over lyrics or feel deeply touched by my thinking of him, but I figured he'd at least listened with the song links I'd sent. Maybe he'd even thought, "Aww, that's sweet. My huck remembers the damnedest things." I posted to facebook a very teenage-ish "I am so excited about this new album!" after an announcement of a forthcoming release. My newsfeed showed good ol' huck had responded. I figured it would be along the lines of, "That's awesome. I know you love him." Instead, the best friend posted, "Who?" Great moment totally ruined.

I gave a co-worker a copy of Ritter's book Bright's Passage for their birthday. It's WWI historical fiction, an era with which we work. I thought they'd be interested in it, maybe see it as a way to get a younger generation interested in the topic. It sat on their desk, wrapped in the bow I'd tied on, for well over three months. Ritter came to town; I went to the show. I made the suggestion that an invitation to our institution may be well-received, (basically because I selfishly thought it would be awesome to meet him should he choose to accept the invitation.) At that point, no one had read the book or looked into Ritter's following to see that this was actually a pretty good opportunity. After the show I was overheard telling another co-worker how great it had been, and how it was really one of the few times I'd felt a sense of calm and joy that summer. The reaction was, "It would have been really good for us to have contacted him and had him visit. This could really be a great partnership." Peaceful, reflective moment ruined.

The things we want others to get excited about will often be deemed unworthy. The sentiments we attach to ideas, whether they be ours or someone else's, aren't always going to strike other people as truly profound. You can't make someone appreciate what you find extraordinary. It's okay; I get that. One great friend has tried for some time now to make me see that Frank Zappa is a musical genius. Another friend is determined that I will one day see that Janis Joplin's heart cries for me. Maybe I will see these things someday, but I doubt it. We've all got widely varied ideas to which we attach significance. For some, these are sentimental. For some, these are poetic and thought-provoking. For some, these are finite and fact-based, devoid of emotional interpretation. With that in mind, it will be easy to do the following things:

1. Stop sharing all the things that I find really, really fantastic with people through FaceBook or this blog. It's like the episode of Roseanne where DJ starts going to church and Darlene says, " Yeah, I mean, maybe he'll take after your cousin Jesco. Isn't he the one who sent us the Bible with every single word highlighted?"

2. Realize that not everybody has as sophisticated palate as I do. To each their own.

3. When little tiny moments of zen are ruined by dismissive statements, recognize that this shit is really a prime example of a first world problem. I'm an over-emotional girl that attaches way too much meaning to just about everything. I find that most men are devoid of an ability to find connection with anything unless they force a moment to its crisis. Women are from Venus; Men are from Mars.

I don't find Rocky Balboa "filling gaps" to be some amazing moment. I don't find a last minute time-out that pauses a football game simply to prolong the wait for an inevitable win/lose to be a great achievement. The development of a new video game system does nothing for me. I consider a mobile phone upgrade pretty meh. This probably irritates the shit out of people that find these things fantastic. They can have their moments. Stupid boys can unwittingly ruin great moments, but it doesn't mean they can't still be appreciated. I'm still more than willing to keep my moments and do my best to ward off interlopers.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Blogging for Spite.

I felt secure about a number of things in my life until the last few years.  You mix in just a few new factors into any situation, though, and anything can change.

Over a ten year span, I'd seldom questioned my relationship.  Situations emerged that reminded me of the feeling of being in love.  I saw my relationship for what it had become.  I was living out Will and Grace without Will being a homosexual.  What happens when what you need isn't necessarily what you want?  When emotions run high, do you even know what it is that you want?  Now I question everything, and I can't seem to arrive at an answer.

I spent six years in the world of higher education gaining a B.A. and a M.A in History.  .I'd majored in something I was interested in rather than something that was practical.  When I grudgingly got my teaching certificate as a back-up plan, I made the wonderful discovery that being a teacher was what I was meant to do.  I loved it.  Then the economy went south, I got laid-off, and that seems to be that.  I've tried for the last three years to find a new teaching position.  I can't even get an interview.  I should be able to remind myself that I'm an expensive hire with my education and experience compared to brand new graduates.  I ought to consider that social studies department positions are always competitive.  That's not what occurs to me.  Instead, I now question if I was ever any good at what I loved doing.  It sounds pathetic, but between schools continuing to cut jobs and competition, I can't say with any certainty that I'll get to work as a history teacher again.  I most certainly question my decisions about career preparation.  Were I to do it over again, I think I'd go for the sure thing instead of following my real interests.  In a world where you can look up anything on Wikipedia to satisfy your curiosity and desire to learn, I really wish I had student loan debt over an MBA instead of a liberal arts degree.

I've never been one to have a lot of friends.  I like having a number of close friends that I know very well, that I trust, that I enjoy, and with whom I truly feel comfortable.  Maintaining these friendships has never been a real issue.  Things evolve, people change, and sometimes roles get filled with new people, but there's never been a period of profound loneliness and loss in my life before.  Over the course of the last three years, this is all that seems to have happened.  I lost the people that were dear to me at the high school where I taught; out of sight and out of mind.  I had re-established relationships with some people through the magic of Facebook.  These were friendships that I foolishly believed would be stronger because of age and maturity.  I thought these were going to be "forever friends."  This proved not to be the case.  Now I don't fully trust anyone to hang around.  I was always cautious about sharing too much of myself with others.  I may share any fact with someone, but allowing myself to connect with someone emotionally is rare.  First of all, it has to be something that is naturally there.  You can't make connections occur; they are there or they aren't.  Then, you have to be willing to let someone in and reciprocate.  There's a great level of trust that is involved.  It hurts way too much to when your trust is dismissed to extend it without caution.  I let myself trust someone that had hurt me terribly in the past because I truly believed it would be different as adults.  I let someone new come in because it hadn't felt so unbelievably right to do so in literally decades.  I question if it's been worth it all the time now.  Is having a partially wonderful situation with someone worth the intense agony of being injured by them?  It's sad to question the practicality of allowing yourself to have meaningful relationships.  It now seems foolish to do so too willingly.  To quote a song, "I've traded all the innocence I ever had for hesitation."

I may not have always been in love with jobs 100% over the years, but I feel like I've always been good at them.  I've never felt like I was a disappointing hire.  Right now, every day when I go to work I question how long it will be before that thought is beamed my way.

Maybe it's a phase.  Sometimes the planets don't align.  People go through periods where they're in a state of flux, and it takes some time before things straighten themselves out.  I feel like I don't have a lot of control over my own life right now.  It seems as if external forces have the bulk of control over what happens and how I live.  I do what I can to not let myself fall prey to this, but I have to admit it's not always easy.  Things will change; it's just a matter of when.   I can do things that need doing, and no one, including myself, will question them.  There are things I can do just because I want to, and they don't have to be questioned.

I've always liked writing.  I claim no prowess.  I don't fancy myself a poet for the ages.  The Pulitzer Prize is not calling my name. I realize there is a difference between formal and informal writing.  There are significant differences between an essay and a purely informational piece of writing.  Academic papers and personal reflections are not the same thing.  Because you prefer one over the other, however, does not mean that you are incapable of producing a satisfactory piece in any of the genres.  As of late I have been informed that I cannot write for shit.  This is not the precise spoken statement, but it is the message.   Who does this?  Who tells someone that the thoughts they have are inadequate and shouldn't be recorded?  Needless to say, the point of anything I put to paper, or type into an electronic device, is absolutely questioned. Regardless,writing is something I like and others indicate they like reading the end product.

I'm really fucking tired of the feeling that everything I want is out of reach or something I shouldn't put time and energy into.  I now don't care that I write things for a cyberspace forum that goes unread.  Occasionally I have things I want to write down.  I think things.  I can say them. I don't need anyone's permission, and I don't need to question myself about doing so.

It may be tiny and insignificant, but if I'm blogging for spite, it suits me fine.

Men of a Certain Age.

Through the magic of Time Warner Cable, Netflix, Hulu, You Tube, (and so on, and so on, and so on) we can now watch basically anything we want to see. It doesn't matter if it's an old MTV video, a movie, or a TV show.

A couple of years ago I fell in love with Men of a Certain Age. Its cancellation was incredibly disappointing. (Apparently, TNT does not know drama.)  I found it On Demand a few weeks ago and I've been watching it repeatedly since. If it's any indication of how great I find this show, it only aired for two seasons. They weren't especially long seasons, either. I've basically been on a twenty-two episode loop for the last few weeks, and it hasn't gotten old.

The show opens with the Beach Boys:
When I grow up to be a man 
Will I dig the same things that turn me on as a kid? 
Will I look back and say that I wish I hadn't done what I did? 
Will I joke around and still dig those sounds 
When I grow up to be a man? 

You see the main characters as care-free children.  They grow into teenagers, hanging out on the beach with girlfriends.  The final shot of the opening is the three best friends in a convertible, driving down a highway with the wind blowing their hair.  They've got nowhere to be.  They've got no one to hassle them.  There is no one else with them -- no girls to distract them, no other friends to impede on the special bond they share -- it's just them, with the California summer sun beginning to set and an open road ahead.  My vision is totally idealized, I'm sure.  Anyone else could tell you that I'm overlooking fathers that harass them to get a job, girls that deflect offers to go to the movies, or questions about what to do after high school.  There's plenty of that in life.  I like the ideal vision much better.  I like thinking these guys appreciated being guys without complications.  There is plenty of time for the complexities of life down the road.

The show is, as the name indicates, about men as they hit a transitional age. It takes on the exchange I think every one of us plays internally at some point: Am I a grown-up now?  How the hell did that happen?  I sure as hell don't feel like a grown-up, but I do feel old.  Shit.  What happened to all the things that I was supposed to do?  What happened to all the things I wanted?  Is it too late for those things now?

The writers of Men of a Certain Age did an incredible job of creating a story about three best friends who represent the variety of Every Man:

Joe -- The Ne'er-Do-Well
This is a man who wants to do everything right.  The goal is to avoid temptations and  live a life that he's supposed to live. He's settled, and he doesn't mind it. The rewards of his efforts are a perfect family with one girl and one boy, a business of his own, a beautiful wife, a hobby he loves and is good at, and two best friends that have been in his life since he was young. The house Joe thought he had in order is really a house of cards that tumbles. His marriage dissolves. The daughter becomes a promiscuous teen. The son develops an anxiety disorder so profound that he can barely socially interact. Joe's gambling addiction becomes so intense that a $25,000 bet  is justified as reasonable since the money would go for a down payment on a new house.  Joe's story is one of What Happens When You Have to Start All Over Again?  You think you've done everything right, and then it all goes to hell.  Trying to explain his failed marriage Joe describes emails with an old girlfriend.  Though the emails were not romantic, they were filled with things he didn't share with his wife.  When she found them, things changed.  He surmised it was at that point when her infidelity began.  Joe says, "You're happy.  Then you're mostly happy, but not all the way.  Before too long, you find out you're not even together anymore." The series takes Joe down a path of discovering who he is, now that he's given a chance to find out without the "oughts" and "shoulds" guiding every decision.  Unfortunately, it seems like Joe really needed those in his life.  The gambling becomes out of control.  He ends up handing over almost all of the responsibility of his Party Store to recent high school graduates and stock boys that don't speak English.  Attempts to relate to his children devolve into threatening to beat up a kid that called his daughter a whore and communicating with his anxiety-ridden son solely through golf.  Attempts to improve his golf game to make it to the Senior Tour are impeded through a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.  On his first post-separation date he is so nervous the comes before he even gets the condom on. Joe's trying, but getting it right is going to take some time.

Owen -- The Waiting Game
This is a man that really does seem to have it all. He's got a beautiful wife with three fantastic young kids. The marriage is genuinely happy and meaningful. While his home life is great, all the things he believes he is supposed to have are missing.  Owen is constantly in his father's shadow.  Dad was a pro basketball player and still strongly believes in winners and losers. Working at his father's car dealership does Owen no favors in gaining his father's approval.  Actually, he has to compete with others for attention and is far from the favorite employee. He's constantly given shit by his dad and the guys he works with for being overweight and an underachiever. Owen can't seem to catch a break.  Contractors bail on his house remodeling, leaving him without a permit and stuck to move any further.  Reasonable requests with the city are moot.  In a speech that seems to resonate as much for himself as the city worker that hears it, Owen details the impact the failure will have on his relationship with his father.  He describes all the times he's aimed for success just to come up short, and how the feeling of simple accomplishment has always eluded him.  The show's final moment of Owen's triumph holding the permit is as profound as someone who's just won a first place prize.  To be out from under his father's thumb, even for a little while, is a major victory.  Dad taunts son at the dealership, first by favoring other salesmen and then by toying with his son over a "will he or won't he" retirement game. The struggle is one that Owen seems determined to win, but there's no certainty.  As always, he's at the mercy of someone else.  Owen is the loser waiting for his shot at life that never seems to happen.

Terry -- The Peter Pan
Terry is a mostly unsuccessful actor that never fully grew up. He's charming and handsome and has probably never encountered a woman that has turned him down.  It's never occurred to him to settle down, at least not seriously.  There's never been a relationship that lasted more than a few months.  Despite these tendencies, there are attempts to avoid a completely shallow life.  There's philosophy, yoga, health foods, zen activities, and retreats. In reality, Terry deludes himself and ignores all the aspects of life that his friends indicate are what life is supposed to be about. He may be have a different 25 year-old in his bed every night, but he's at a point where he's starting to realize there really ought to be more.  His application to become a Big Brother is declined.  Acting jobs don't pan out.  Promises to stick around are broken and potential relationships are lost as a result.  "Grown-up" jobs are not met with maturity, and the price is paid.  As an apartment complex manager, Terry fails to keep up with requests.  This leads to literally being covered in shit, no small metaphor for an empty life whose facade is fading fast.

Between the acting and the writing, this show is truly fantastic.  Episodes run on a general theme with each of the characters, but without the feeling of  being hit over the head. Music is woven throughout, perfectly wrapping scenes. Real things happen. Real situations, real conversation, real awkward feelings, real portrayals of real men. It's the little things, the subtle things, that make the show exceptional. After a genuine moment of reflection on the passing of time and a friend's cancer diagnosis, Joe looks out onto a female player on the golf course and says, "That is a nice ass, though."  Owen waits for the family to go to bed so he can raid his hiding spots of junk food that's been banned due to his diabetes.  When Terry first spends the night with the woman he finally feels he could have a relationship, the Realness of the situation is expressed with a simple glance at the cat on the end of the bed who watches him with wary eyes.  It's just a show about real life.  Real life plays out in a much more enjoyable way when you can watch it on TV instead of living it yourself.

"Getting older. It all gets real. You know?" -- Joe

I'm not 50, like these guys are. Regardless, I feel the words of the intro song.  I feel the quote by Joe. The past few years I've felt the pains of middle age. I'm not 40 yet, and this may seem premature to a lot of people. It doesn't feel that way to me. I look at my life, and I feel like I'm at a point where I'm supposed to be over my youth. I'm supposed to be finished with all the silly fun things but be able to look back on them with fond affection. Instead, I feel like I didn't ever do the things that create those memories. I feel like nothing I was supposed to do ever got started. Everything seems stalled.. These guys share the real side of their stories at a antiquated diner or over hikes in the hills of California.    Maybe no one has life figured out, and no one is really pulling anything off other than an illusion.  Perhaps my frustrations at a stalled life are typical.

I feel so incredibly immature, and yet so old.  I'm Terry, but without the fun he's had exploring life and fucking around.  I'm Joe, with the anxiety and peculiarities.  I've always tried to do what I'm supposed to and I've ended up sub-par, with a flailing career and personal life.  When I've sought out some spontaneous joy, it's been a failed experiment.  Is the best I can do to wait for something that must come along simply because I've wanted it for so long, like Owen?  Comparing myself to three fictional 50 year old men is most likely not the best way to figure out my existential crisis.

It's still a great show, though.