Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Life Not Chosen...

When I am not at McMurdo, or travelling, or on a ski or painting trip I am in that in-between place where I spend vast amounts of time alone, going to meetings and yoga and taking long walks around the lake. It's during these times that my aloneness sticks out as I'm floating in a sea of hand-holding couples, dodging toddlers at the yoga studio (most yoginis I see are either pre or post natal and talk about babies incessantly) or going on a tour by myself in a foreign country, which doesn't seem strange to me at all but I have since found out that people have all sorts of reactions to a woman travelling alone. I've had people pity me (they've actually told me that!), shun me as some sort of weirdo, or fence me off from their geezer husband as in their minds a single middle aged woman must be desperate for a man, any man! I should pity them, with their small minded thinking, but more I just feel lucky that I'm free to do what I want. Sometimes though the cavernous black maw of loneliness will start to suck me in and I can get in a pretty stinky spot with it. I remember once walking alone on some summer holiday & saw families & couples & kids all hanging out in yards having parties, and I had nowhere to go. I spent one Easter in a dark pit, and now make sure I have something planned long in advance for both Easter & 4th of July, holidays I can't stand but can't stand to be alone on. When Will told me that he was going to work in Taiwan for a year I felt a sharp pang of abandonment, like I was being called upon to be more independent than I even want to be. I'd assumed he'd be back on the Ice with me this season, but his glee for this exciting opportunity outweighs my selfish desire to have him with me. And as people are always telling me (and 49 years of experience has shown!): everything is going to be ok. Sometimes there's just so much change in a short period of time that my head spins...but I've gotten used to being on the move a lot, and it suits me for the most part. The common thinking (that was upended in the great film Up in the Air) is that all people need home and family and connection. But there is the sort of person who doesn't need traditional marriage and family and home ownership to belong. Some of us get our sense of belonging by serving something else...I can feel as supported and loved by the Universe in an airport lounge as anywhere else on earth...there there are people all around me who are in the exact same boat: the luxurious boat of limbo, where for some reason my mind seems to process recent events quite exquisitely.

Nuala O'Faolain wrote so personally and intimately about the childfree middle aged woman...especially that pang we can have when we see a mother lifting a particularly adorable child into her arms. I made a solid choice not to have children, but there must be a maternal part of me because I have been enraptured with 5 month old babies on occasion. They usually want me to hold them, which is a great joy to me, as it connects me to a larger part of me (and thus the world) that I am rarely in touch with. This connection is so deep & satisfying and something which I have just moments of experience with. I wonder sometimes how I missed that this gorgeous feeling was why people have families...and for a split second wonder if I've shortchanged myself by not having considered it...but then I look at our vast planet with the hundreds of countries that I still have not visited and know in my heart that I may indeed be missing out on one of the great joys of life by not having had a family of my own, but that the life I DID choose is filled with endless possibilities for rewarding experiences.

Friday, April 09, 2010

My Greenberg Problem

Most people who know me think I majored in Fine Art in college because I made art for so long in Austin, but I actually have a film degree. I remember seeing "La Strada" late one night when I was in high school and it had a powerful affect on me. Woody Allen became my muse in the 70's & 80's, and after a rapturous experience of seeing Eraserhead in a hundred year old theater in my freshman year of college, I knew I would try to make films. The technical classes were incredibly challenging for me, but the viewing and studying of film was euphoric. The experience I want from a film is to be moved. I have seen so many great films in my life that I could never see another one, but this posting is about a film I just saw (and walked out of) that had decent critical reviews but was really bad, and bad in a disturbing way. Noah Baumbach's  "Greenberg" is about a self-absorbed misanthropic character who seems to only be taking up space on the planet as dead weight, but is also able to get a halfway decent female to be interested in him despite his histrionics and social phobias. Woody Allen's neurotics are always lovable and hilarious, but Baumbach's just seem petulant (and really, they're dickheads). If a big tornado sucked up all his characters I wouldn't shed a tear, would sigh with relief actually. I'm thinking of those spoiled, no-lifers in Margot at the Wedding, whose crazy making and infantile needs rule the film. Only Jack Black could save it with his one great scene, that almost seemed to be making fun of Baumbach himself. A film is a mirror into the director's soul. Great acting is usually the result of great directing. If a director doesn't have heart in his film, I'm not going to get sucked in. The one exception to that rule for me is Kubrick, whose mammoth genius in his art was inspired by something beyond heart. His films feel cold and misogynistic, but as a filmmaker he is brilliant. I have seen The Pianist three times, a film I consider Art at it's highest, and no matter where one stands on his personal past life, Polanski has a heart and soul as big as the Universe and it shows in his work. I know people who stopped watching Woody Allen films after he married Soon-Yi - but they are missing out on some of his darkest and sexiest work yet. I think Noah Baumbach is considered a good young director and he does have talent, but whatever Gen-X shallow values stuff he is trying to put across is not working for me. Maybe it's personal. I lived like a "Slacker" before Linkater made the movie. I knew everyone in that film. Seeing a new Hollywood film that seems to be almost a nihilistic experiment in studied awkwardness sounds interesting, but let Lars von Trier do that! Don't try and weave it into a Ben Stiller dramcom. Because it wasn't funny when he pushed her on the bed and they had screendom's most depressing lovemaking scene EVER (it was actually "Breaking the Waves"-esque in it's gun-to-the-head disconnectedness). I tried to see the humor in it as I think it was intended to be funny, but I was cringeing, and feeling my feminist ire come up. The girl in the film is so ridiculous as to be a cartoon of a mumblecore posterchild. Her self esteem is so low one cannot understand how she able to hold a job, much less set up singing gigs. I remember when I was an overeducated beer drinking jobless slacker in my 20's...but we had passion and ambition and were intense about what we wanted to do, we wanted out of slackerdom ultimately...why would someone care about this Greenberg character who does not care about himself?

I remember it like it was yesterday: 1982, Easter European Cinema Class, University of Texas at Austin. 6 people enrolled in a class in the largest student body of any college in the nation. We had viewed a low budget Polish film about a stupid girl who does nothing ever but pick her fingernails & has a variety of boyfriend problems. Because I was 21 and the film was in black and white I was riveted, and thought there must be some deep theme - I had to think that as I had to write a 3 page paper on it. The next class meeting we discussed the film, and there was this one guy in class who wore a rumpled suit and was like the character in Henry Fool who played Henry (ahh Hal Hartley - one of a kind: utterly true to his vision), who was the only one brave enough to say what he really felt about the film. Most of us were talking about poverty and communism and existentialist despair when this guy waited til there was silence in the class and nearly shouted "This woman was a worthless character. Watching her was torment - I just felt like screaming at her "do something: read a book, do a crossword puzzle, ANYTHING!..." I don't know if he said anything else but he opened my mind up to the idea that I don't have to agree with the filmmaker. I can look with a critical eye and weigh for myself whether a character has merit or if the director has been successful in infusing them with qualities that make them compelling. Greenberg might be a great character if he had a sense of humor or a heart or some redeeming qualities but he doesn't. He's not doing anything but writing borderline personality type letters to corporations. Not nearly as engaging as a crossword puzzle. My basic Greenberg problem is that precious celluloid (if they are still using that) that could probably be put to good use in some third world country, is covered with Ben Stiller's cave man face & ridiculous "slacker" hair, and purported to be "art" because the director makes quirky films. Baumbach should just join the Dogme Collective & follow the manifesto of purity and not try to portray Greenberg as deserving of our sympathy. "Julien Donkey Boy" was so much less painful that Greenberg. It wasn't self conscious, and didn't give a rat's ass whether you cared about Julien or not. It let you decide, and didn't try to be something it was not. That is not to say I am a fan of Harmony Korine, but at least he knows his characters are unlikable assholes and portrays them that way.