What to do if you have 90 minutes this weekend

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Last night I watched a movie that made me wish I still believed. Not because of the strength of the convictions or arguments of the film, but just because I know that if I still believed I might have some standing to argue that Christians should see this movie. But I’m only a heathen and I have very few Christian friends these days. So instead I will talk to the great wide internet.

The movie is 1994’s Priest and it is a deeply faith-based movie. There will be some spoilers in what I write here, so if you’re concerned, probably you should go watch it. Over the past few years I have watched dozens of “Christian” movies and have found them to be offensively shallow. I may be starting a new blog once I graduate in a few weeks and there may be some reviews on those.

The point is that Priest is not that film. A young priest named Father Greg who believes with all his heart that God has called him to this work. His new parish has an unconventional priest, played to perfection by the wonderful Tom Wilkerson, who sings karaoke with the community and has an ongoing relationship with his housekeeper. Father Greg is gay and when he goes to a bar one night and home for a one night stand, he is horrified when his partner realizes he’s Catholic. His partner only shrugs, “Takes one to know one.” Father Greg runs out the door as fast as he can go.

I assumed this would be a gay romance using the trope of a priest (or maybe two) but this is a much deeper and more painful film than that. While his sexuality is a grappling point for him, it is only one of many. The more central point really comes when the daughter of a parish family confesses to him what her father is doing to her behind closed doors. The man shows no remorse, and Father Greg is sickened and horrified by his choices. What can he do? He tries to drop hints but no one picks up on them. The girl begins having fits at school, her mother works as a secretary. When her mother is with him, he knows the girl is home, with her father.

There are many ways this storyline could have played out. It is the fact that the film takes his pain so very genuinely that makes it successful. Am I frustrated that he doesn’t just call social services, that he doesn’t immediately tell her mother? Absolutely I am. But Father Greg is anguished over his decision, wracking his brain, begging God on his knees to do something, tell him what to do, shouting at him. This is no man following tradition blindly, this is a man torn apart by what he believes is his calling and what he believes to be right.

It is this fearlessness that makes the movie dangerous and sincere. We see him making out with his lover, but it is not a graphic movie in any way. Mostly we see deep and complex conversations about the meaning of faith and the impossibility of being human. Father Greg walks with his lover down the beach, agonizing over this child, and talks about how Christ may have gone to the cross but he went with certainty, he went with the absolute knowledge that God and heaven existed, and that’s not really the same, is it? “He wasn’t human enough,” he says with frustration.

But make no mistake, in spite of all the potentially sacrilegious questions it poses (or perhaps because of them), this movie ends on some of the most deeply sacred acts of love I have seen on film. If I still believed in a kind of Christianity, it would be in the last 10 minutes of this movie.

I know that no Christians I grew up with would watch this movie. There are multiple scenes of men kissing, and they would see much of what was said as a dilution of holiness or what was important about God. But to me, this is the best that faith can be in the midst of horrible circumstances. It is a true representation of someone struggling genuinely with his faith in opposition to what he has been taught, with what he feels the love of God must encompass if it is to have meaning, and with what he believes God has built on earth. These exact things go to the heart of many of my own problems with institutions of religion, but I do believe the members of those institutions should be more often portrayed as real people seeking genuinely.

I don’t know who will watch this movie. My reach is pretty limited. But I hope a few people do. It expires on Netflix at the end of the month, but I’m sure it’ll be around. It’s worth the time.

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Robin Williams and Celebrity Death

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As I’m sure anyone who has been in contact with the world for the past few days knows, Robin Williams died on Monday of apparent suicide. It’s a very sad thing and I hope he’s found some peace. I’ve been surprised by the intensity of the outpouring of grief around his death. Many people I know were extremely affected by it and have experienced a great deal of sadness. I was not particularly. Although I have a few Robin Williams movies I loved from when I was a child, I didn’t feel that connection with him. Still, I feel a general sadness for a life wasted and the sadness of others. 

What I wanted to talk about however is a phenomenon I’ve noticed as part of the reactions. It’s one I’ve seen not only in this particular instance but in almost every case of celebrity death and despite the numerous articles and blogs I’ve seen around the various facets of celebrity, I haven’t recently seen anything around this so I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring here. The phenomenon is pretty simple and seems to be an attempt to put yourself above those who are hurt by this event. There’s the “I obviously feel badly for his friends and family but it hasn’t affected me personally.” Or the more hard line “I’ve never been impacted by a celebrity dying, I just can’t understand why someone would be.” 

I’ve seen these sentiments expressed in various ways and I think they represent something rather cold and cruel in our society, something that genuinely bothers me. This desire to show that you are somehow better than those who are wounded. Look, I think there are things that can probably be said about “TMZ culture” or however you’d like to phrase it. Maybe. I don’t care that much, to be honest. I think the danger of it is overstated and we’d do better to stop focusing on the evils of celebrity and start focusing on more important things. But when celebrities die, particularly people who have been involved in forms of art for many years, and particularly when the death is unexpected, that is not the same. 

It does not make you a superior person to not be sad because someone has died. It also doesn’t make you a worse person. Your emotional responses to the death of someone you don’t know (or someone you do know) do not define whether you are a decent human being. But judging others for expressing the impact that someone’s life had on their own might. 

I did not personally have that connection with Robin Williams, may he rest in peace. But when I saw the trailer for the new Phillip Seymour Hoffman movie? I still got a lump in my throat. I don’t actually know how long it’ll take me to accept that he’s gone. I have plans with my bestie to watch the new Roger Ebert documentary and when we do we have solemnly agreed that we will both cry like children. Because we loved him, because he meant something to us. The day I found out Roger Ebert died, I sat on my couch and sobbed for over an hour. I am tearing up right now thinking about it. This is the man who in many ways taught me how to love film, not just critically but joyfully. I still want to check his website every week. I can’t count how many movies I catch myself thinking “I wonder what Ebert thou… oh.” 

There will be others. It’s a handful compared to the number of actors in Hollywood but there will be others whose deaths will leave a blank space for me, who will be a loss for me, as Robin Williams is to so many right now. I think that is a beautiful, amazing thing. Isn’t the best thing about art that we can share it and it becomes part of us, that it sometimes actually changes us? And part of that is accepting loss and grief, just like with any relationship.

I have no judgment for those who were not affected by this death. I wish nothing but hope and healing and peace for those who were. I hope for peace for his family. I hope that this can help spur productive discussion about depression and how dangerous it can be. But you are not a better person if you were not touched by this. If there’s nothing kind for you to say, please just don’t. It really is okay to just shut up. 

Hunger Games Musings

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I saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire twice in theaters. This was partly because I had two different groups of friends to go with but partly because it was just a damn enjoyable movie. I mean, this is the moment, right? This is the momentum building movie of the franchise. Katniss is going to find her reason to step forward, to become a symbol of power, something outside herself, something bigger than survival. Maybe just to become a martyr. I thought it was much more tightly done than it was in the book and I was impressed with how they pulled it all together. Although I enjoyed the books, I haven’t been their biggest defender and I felt there was a lot that could be and was improved on in the film.

One of the things that I feel like was most notable to me in these movies was how much I love all the supporting characters. In fact, I love the supporting characters significantly more than I love the main characters. Look, I empathize with Katniss but her intense introversion makes rooting for her sometimes frustrating. I have never, ever been Team Gale. Boy is too damn whiny for my taste. And while I was pleased to see Peeta get a few genuinely charming lines in this installment, I am mostly eagerly waiting to see what the actor can do when he’s really allowed to cut loose and go totally nuts in the end. Because Peeta exists primarily to be a “nice guy” and support Katniss. He’s not a terrible character but he doesn’t ever really grab me either. But the supporting roles! I want to marry Johanna and have 10,000 of her babies. Seriously, that girl’s rage is a fire of the most beautiful and pure variety and Jenna Malone absolutely slaughtered it. I love my rageful girl characters. I need them. As a girl who struggles to feel anger, they help me process things, help me feel a spark of something I sometimes can’t access on my own. We don’t teach our little girls to be angry, teach them how to scream when they should. We don’t tell them that being nice is a trap but Johanna has nothing left to lose and she doesn’t care what they do anymore. No one wants to end up in her position but I think most of us can on some level feel her helplessness and anger. I think it matters that we do. We need girls who can be that kind of brave and fierce and strong.

But do you know who my favorite character is? She’s my favorite because she makes me so uncomfortable, and because I think maybe she’s me. Effie. Poor Effie. Effie who is so earnest, who starts these films so passionately believing everything she’s been taught and why? Because it’s comfortable. Because she’s in a good place. We never find out what it took for Effie to become the personality she is, but I’m sure it took work. I’m sure she had to climb a hell of a ladder to become the woman who took care of the Tributes. And probably she hoped that someday she would get to move out of District 12 and move up, to a more prestigious district. We don’t know how it works after all but I’m sure there are rules, I’m sure she sacrificed. Maybe Effie grew up all her life dreaming of being on television, of being part of the Games. She wanted so badly to be Somebody. She believes in all of this, you can tell. She really, truly believes that the Games have meaning, that they are what keeps everything safe. And in a way, she’s right. Living in the Capitol, the Games are what keep her safe. They keep her way of life safe, they keep everything in place for her. She is the privileged top of the heap, the few who get to benefit off of everyone else dying on the lower rungs. But there are nicer ways to put that and in the meantime there are such beautiful clothes and there are parties to go to and just day to day life to live and someday she’s going to be famous, she’s going to be a star. Privilege works because we need it to work, because it keeps us safe.

Maybe that doesn’t seem familiar to anyone else but it sure seems familiar to me. Growing up in a middle class home, a white girl who did pretty okay and was fiercely conservative because I believed you had to be and because it was important to be right and because these were the things that protected us. And I was right. They did protect us. I just didn’t really realize that they only protected us, only protected me and mine and there were people in so many other places who weren’t being protected at all. And then one day something happens to Effie, like something happened to me. Except it’s never just one thing, it’s lots of little things and before you know it you realize that this system you’ve taken everything from isn’t what you thought it was. It’s cruel and harsh and it’s not fair. It’s profoundly unjust. You’ve been swimming in injustice your whole life and you just didn’t realize it because you were the one on top getting all of the air. Here is where you make decisions, whether you like it or not, and this is why I love Effie more than any other character in the entire series – because she is so completely and totally relatable.

We all want to believe we’d be the hero, that we would be part of the revolution, the people risking our lives to make a change. We want to believe that we would be like Cinna, creating the amazing mockingbird dress, knowing what it would cost him but knowing also what it could mean. We want to believe that we are the people who would have hidden Jews in Germany, we are good people who would do the right thing. But what if you’re not? What if you’re more like Effie? What if I’m more like Effie? I realize that the water I’m swimming in is profoundly unjust, it’s cruel, that people are dying and drowning and that I am benefitting from this wealth of privilege. And I… suggest we all wear jewelry to show how we’re a team and we’re opposed to it. It’s the most courage she’s got and I love her for it because it’s everything she has and it’s so small. She does not have what it takes to throw her life on the line. I believe people evolve and change and that Effie can too but in this moment she is a child who is mostly afraid. She has a glimpse of what has happened, what she is a part of. She is against it but she doesn’t want to get dirty. I mean, she has such beautiful clothes. Have you seen her butterflies? I’m positive I am more like Effie than Katniss or Joanna and I love her for her transparency and her absolute humanity. Heroes are heroes because they do what most of us wouldn’t. Most of us are afraid of the dirt. Most of us, most days, are more like Effie.

What I’ve Been Doing

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Okay, well I had plans for a different entry and in fact kind-of wrote it but my writing was particularly disastrous this week and my editor was busy so eh. The subject matter will probably transfer over to a different week if it’s important. I promise, right now it’s not fit for consumption. Blah.

So right now I figured I would just spend a little time going over what I’ve been watching and reading in the past week, which is actually a fair amount of stuff. I have watched 14 movies since last Friday and finished 3 books. The books are actually more unusual for me than the movies but both are worth mentioning. This entry may be of no interesting to anyone whatsoever but, you know. This is one of the things I do. I guess this will give an idea of the sorts of things I watch and read. I will start with books since it’s a shorter list.

First up was A Woman Like That: Lesbians and Bisexuals Tell Their Coming Out Stories. I was pretty disappointed by this one. I’m usually really fascinated by this sort-of thing but for some reason this collection felt really super intellectual and… cold, I guess is the word? It seems like a subject matter that shouldn’t feel like those things but I found myself really detached from almost all of the stories. So that was unfortunate.

Fifty Shades Freed. Hooray, I’m finally free of this series? I laughed my way through the first one with a whole lot of glee but they became increasingly difficult to slog through as the series progressed. Once the bad writing just becomes monotonous instead of shocking and hilarious, you’re mostly just left with the incredibly depressing nature of an abusive relationship. And good lord, she does go on. This last book was almost 600 pages. Let me assure you, she did not have plot for half of that. But I pressed on because I like to finish what I start, even when it feels kind-of like torture. I have no explanation for this. Everyone has quirks, right?

The Burn Journals. I’ve kind-of been meaning to read this for a while. A memoir from a kid who set himself on fire when he was 14 years old and ended up with severe burns on over 85% of his body. It’s a very frank and straightforward feeling book and a fast read. I didn’t love it but I liked it. It definitely felt… authentic, I guess. I appreciated in a sense that it seems like he never really came to like a magical understanding of why he did it. I think sometimes things like that don’t have reasons, or at least not something you understand after the fact. Suicide, or suicide attempts, are strange things.

I have just today started The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie, which my brother bought me for my birthday or Christmas a year or two ago. We will see how that goes, I’ve actually never read anything by Rushdie before.

Movies!

Adrift, which was a 2009 French film about a young girl who realizes her father is having an affair. I was expecting something a lot different and I wasn’t necessarily looking forward to it (look, I watch a lot of things for various reasons, not necessarily because I expect to enjoy them) but I was pleasantly surprised. It ended up being a very sweet and sad story about growing up and how much it kind-of sucks to find out that your parents are very human and imperfect and in fact sometimes suck. But they can still love you anyway and that’s confusing and difficult, especially when you are 14 and you are still really, really enjoying the simplicity of a more black and white world. It was a really lovely little movie.

A Wink and a Smile: The Art of Burlesque. Eh, I don’t have a lot to say about this. It was pretty boring for a documentary and people were taking themselves way too seriously about something like burlesque in my opinion. If it’s supposed to be fun, have fun.

Mommo, a Turkish film about a young brother and sister essentially abandoned by their father and left to fend for themselves. Overall, it’s a less depressing movie than it sounds. It’s remarkably sweet for the most part, it was a nice little movie.

XX/XY. I’m not sure what to say about this one except I spent the entire movie wanting to shake Mark Ruffalo and yell at him to just please grow the hell up and stop whining. The one redeeming factor of the movie is that one character does kind-of get to tell him this at the end, although not quite as definitively as I would have liked.

The Edukators was for the most part a pretty fun movie about a trio of idealistic German youth who have decided to attempt to shake up the system by… breaking into rich people’s houses and rearranging all their furniture, basically. It’s a little more complicated than that but less than you’d think. Things go wrong, there’s kidnapping and hijinks and madness. I liked the whole movie quite a lot except for the last two minutes or so which I thought didn’t make sense with the rest of the movie and were unfortunate.

Requiem is another German movie based on the same story that The Exorcism of Emily Rose was loosely based on. Unlike the latter movie, this one seems to work pretty firmly off of the concept that she was not really being assaulted by demons but in fact was epileptic and suffering some kind of psychosis. I found the movie surprisingly effective and difficult to watch in places. Something about her portrayal of mental breakdown really got to me. Certainly it’s not as dramatic a movie as it’s counterpart but I liked it quite a lot.

The Safety of Objects is a movie about how very sad white suburbanites can be about all manner of problems. I’m not saying that may not be a true fact but you know. I’ve seen American Beauty (I still rather like it) and I’ve seen a number of movies before and since American Beauty about this same idea of what lies behind white picket fences and I find it rather not compelling typically. On the other hand, a boy has sexual love for a Barbie doll. I hadn’t seen that before.

Turtles Can Fly is a really excellent movie but holy shit is it bleak. If bleak is not your thing, do not watch this movie. This is the kind of bleak that is so dark that I don’t even think I cried. Sometimes things just tear holes out of you, it’s too dark to cry. It reminded me a little bit of my reaction when I first read The Kite Runner, except that book had more cheer. I honestly did appreciate it and I don’t want to say much about it because spoilers so you know. Chances are you either like that sort of thing or you do not. It is very beautiful in the darkest sort of way.

The Mark. To call this a movie is being generous. Look, my best friend Julie and I watch a bad movie together almost every week. We get on Skype, we chat, then we stream something together. For a while now we’ve been on a Christian movie kick. This movie blatantly ripped off Left Behind, which is fascinating because it would never have occurred to me that anyone would want to rip off Left Behind and mostly it was just boring. Possibly the sequel would be more interesting as the movie ended with them parachuting into a city in flames? But I… don’t know.

Rewatched The Hunger Games with David and the Superhero in preparation for the sequel. I really did not much like this movie when it first came out. On a rewatch, I think I mostly was just too close to the book. I usually try not to read books at all if a movie is coming out, certainly not soon before but in this case it had just sort-of happened. Now that I’m a couple years removed, I appreciated the movie quite a bit. I still hate the shaky-cam that the first 20 minutes or so is plagued by but that’s mostly my only complaint.

Chloe. Woman hires an escort because she’s convinced her husband is cheating on her and then DRAMAZ, INTRIGUE, LESBIAN SEX. And so on. Nah, I mean, it was okay. I just… this movie is directed by Atom Egoyan, who directed the heartbreaking and amazing movie The Sweet Hereafter and has just never managed to do another thing that even touches that since. This would be another one that just kind-of is fine but is never anything more than fine which is disappointing because I know for a fact he’s capable of more than fine.

The Queen of Versailles is a really fascinating documentary about this billionaire couple who are going to build the country’s biggest house and then the financial crisis hits and things go bad… it honestly doesn’t sound as fascinating as it is but there’s something strangely heartbreaking and touching about the entire project, in a really unexpected and curious way. It’s well worth a watch.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. I really don’t feel like I need to talk much about this since if you’re alive right now you’ve probably heard of it. I went to go see it last night, I enjoyed every minute of it. I think they took a somewhat mediocre book and made a pretty great movie out of it. I’ll probably be going to see it a second time in the next… I’m not sure. Sometime in the next week, I guess, and I’m looking forward to that. So you know. Join the crowd or whatever, it’s worth it.

Haywire is an action movie directed by Steven Soderbergh that he decided he wanted to do after he saw the star doing MMA fighting. He did the whole movie around her. She’s quite beautiful and strong and I feel like you can see what might have drawn him to her. I enjoyed the movie quite a lot (and not just because my beautiful Michael Fassbender was in it). It was very visceral for an action movie, the fight scenes were really intense to watch and, although of course the story is kind-of silly as those stories tend to be, I found her compelling and interesting throughout. It’s a good watch if you’re into that sort of thing.

Okay, I swear contrary to what this looks like I do things other than watch movies. I also watch television shows! And also other things, really. The same weekend I watched 8 movies I also cleaned basically my entire house, did all of the laundry, washed my dog, cleaned my car, and wrote 2 papers. I watched those first 8 movies because they were about to expire on Netflix. I have school and practicum and spend an inordinate amount of time with David and the Superhero, and I have other friends too. It’s just… you know. We all have things we prioritize, movies happen to be my thing. Last year I watched over 400 movies, this year I am currently at 231, so you can see the number has dropped quite a bit. But I realized I haven’t hardly talked about movies on this blog, which seems a bit strange considering how much of my time I actually spend on them so you know. Consider this a very brief snapshot.

Being Nice and Uncomfortable

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On Wednesday night I watched Rosemary’s Baby with David and I was a bit blindsided by how uncomfortable it made me feel. This is a movie I have watched probably half a dozen times in my life. It is one of my favorite horror movies and yet here I am, watching it and feeling all sorts of feelings I have never felt before. This is not the first time I have felt uncomfortable watching the movie. Obviously there are the rape elements, combined with Roman Polanski as the director, which is more than enough to cause discomfort. This was a whole different set of uncomfortable feelings though.

Spoilers for Rosemary’s Baby ahead. Although seriously, if you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? It’s 35 years old, people. Go watch it right now. It’s a great movie and it’s October. What an excellent month to watch it.

I assume it is because of the training that I have been going through that this was somehow the very first time that I watched this movie and realized that I was watching an abusive relationship. I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I ever thought that Rosemary’s relationship with Guy was an okay sort of thing but I never recognized the cycles of power and control that were happening or the focus on Rosemary’s inability to break out of these relatively subtle and gradually increasing things. Rosemary is very, very isolated in this movie. She is kept away from her friends, which is a common sign of abuse. When she has a moment of “stubbornness” and insists on having a party for her friends, Guy tries to make it seem like she’s being ridiculous. When her friends gather around her and assure her that she needs support, needs another doctor, needs something, Guy tells Rosemary they are just “nosy bitches” and that she needs to not listen to them. He won’t pay for another doctor, what about her current doctor? He’s not going to hurt Dr. Sapperstein’s feelings. Rosemary is the one being irrational, she is the one being inappropriate. This is a common theme throughout the movie. Guy’s moods shift easily. He can be very kind and gentle with her one day, bringing her flowers often, apologizing for being so self-involved and not caring enough, and then turning on her and pointing out how crazy she has been acting. This is an incredibly common pattern in abusive relationship. Although we never see Guy actually hit her, we definitely get the sense that Rosemary does not feel safe with him, that she feels it is her job to placate him, to make him happy and content. When he is upset, she blames herself or explains that after all he is an actor, everyone knows actors are temperamental. The part he is working on right now is so difficult, it’s understandable that he hasn’t been himself. She is an expert at making excuses for him. When he comes home with flowers, apologizing and telling her he wants to make a baby and have the life they have dreamed of she is overjoyed to the point of tears. “Don’t cry, Ro,” he tells her. “No, of course not,” she says. Nothing that he is uncomfortable with, after all. His body language with her is possessive and often borders on threatening. When she is in incredible pain with her pregnancy, she hides it from him, even when it means going to the other room and sobbing silently. She doesn’t want to make him upset.

There is, of course, one of the most upsetting things to happen in their relationship which is the conception of the child. Although the truth is that Guy has allowed her to be raped by Satan, which is a much more pulpy and ridiculous thing, what Rosemary believes has happened, what Guy tells her has happened, is that she passed out and he had sex with her. He cheerfully tells her the next morning that he raped her while she was passed out. “Don’t worry honey, I filed down my nails. I didn’t want to miss baby making night. After this, only wine OR cocktails for you, not both.” Rosemary is clearly incredibly uncomfortable, tries to point out they could have done it this morning, could have done it that night. The window for making a baby, after all, is not merely a one night thing. Guy shrugs her off, says he was somewhat drunk too and anyway, it was kind-of fun in a necrophile sort-of way. Rosemary holds herself tightly and will never mention it again. Her husband, as far as she knows, has raped her but she will never bring it up again. He’s made it clear it’s a closed subject and she doesn’t want to rock the boat.

Rosemary is so nice. She is such a very accommodating wife, she is so gracious and quiet. She does not really like the neighbors but of course they can come in because she simply cannot think of a way to explain that no, she is not really comfortable with that. She has many things that perhaps on some level she wishes she could discuss with her husband but she wants him to come home to a happy environment, she wants him to feel good and pleased. She does not want to be the reason he’s angry. Her role is Wife. Someday soon it will be Mother and everything will be so wonderful. Part of being Wife instead of Rosemary means that you always open the door, even when you’re not feeling well. You always listen to the doctor, even when you are sobbing in pain for months. You sublimate your own feelings of hurt or worry because they are, by nature, less important than Guy’s feelings or the feelings of your very overbearing neighbor. You simply do not have it in you to combat someone with that much force of person within them. You haven’t found that within you yet. You are simply Wife. Neighbor. Soon to be Mother.

I watched this and I found myself so uncomfortable because I recognize that. I am so often overtaken by the belief that I am Friend before I am myself. Whatever role I see myself in, I feel it is so much easier to step behind that, to try to be gracious and step softly and be careful and be nice. I don’t mean kind because I genuinely believe that kindness is a different thing that is incredibly strong and comes from a truly deep core but nice is something that I do often because I am afraid. I am afraid of many things. If it is someone who I value a great deal, I’m afraid of losing them. I’m afraid of tipping the scales too far. What if I’m crazy? What if I am more work than fun and they get tired of that? What if my needs or wants are too much? I don’t have a good scale for these things, I don’t know how to measure them. It is easier to step back and try to sublimate what I need in favor of what they need. Now, don’t get me wrong. I have, as I have gotten healthier, surrounded myself with fairly incredible people who seem to care about me a lot and who are pretty persistent about not letting me do that. I’m learning slowly. With people I feel safe with, I am getting to a point where I can ask for what I need and, so far, it would appear that the world doesn’t fall apart when I do it. That said? I can completely see myself in a situation like Rosemary’s (probably minus the Satan cult of naked old people). It would not be hard to convince me that I was just being crazy.

It is much more complex when I am talking to people I don’t know or don’t feel safe with. When I am at a party or gathering with people I’m not close to. Last weekend I was sort-of hit on by a guy who called himself Ace. Whatever nonsense you just pictured when I said that? It’s probably accurate. We went out for a smoke and I let him tell me a lot of things. Partly because I decided that I was going to practice my reflective listening (since he was obviously going to talk anyway) and partly because I knew whatever he told me would amuse David when we got back inside and partly because I honestly wouldn’t have had the first clue about how else to respond. When people talk to me, I am nice. I don’t say that as a positive. There are absolutely times I think it would be healthier and better for me if I was just able to roll my eyes and walk away but I don’t want to rock the boat, I don’t want to break my role. I’m a Nice Girl, after all. I’m supposed to let them talk to me. Saying no is a complicated thing when I feel uncertain if I have the right to be uncomfortable.

I find myself wondering how you break this sort of thing. It is different than it used to be so I know I’ve made steps. I’m not the same. I’m much better with people I trust. Rosemary breaks some of her patterns by getting angry, by allowing herself to truly get angry about what’s happening. Of course, for her it is about protecting her baby and realizing something matters more to her than those patterns. I don’t have a baby (and dear heavens, hopefully I never will) and I’m not convinced that’s a solid plan to count on anyway but I do think there’s something to the idea of finding a way to access anger. It’s something I’ve always struggled with because anger does exactly those things that frighten me. It rocks the boat, it causes problems, it can make me seem crazy. Still, it is also the one thing that has sometimes gotten through barriers that nothing else can. What would it mean to be able to be angry? It would have to mean I believed I deserved a certain standard of treatment. It would have to mean that I trusted myself to recognize when that didn’t happen, that I believed that wasn’t okay, even if someone told me otherwise. I don’t think anger is ever a good place to stay, it’s a terrible place to be trapped in, but sometimes it can be a motivating force to move forward. Of course, knowing that still doesn’t mean I know exactly how to safely access that so obviously this isn’t exactly an answer but it’s about the end of where my thoughts are on this at the moment. I’ll call it a start.

Loving People and Being Loved

Standard

“Love is like riding or speaking French. If you don’t get the trick when you’re young, it’s hard to master later on.”
(Downton Abby)

One of the hardest things about being a teenager is that you can’t see how big the world is yet. This is even more challenging when you are a teenager being raised in a fairly strict conservative Christian home, being homeschooled and having parents who are trying their absolute best to keep you from being damaged by the terrifying world outside the door. It’s very hard to be in that situation and to understand the absolute fact that not everyone lives this way. It’s hard to internalize an incredibly important, incredibly simple truth

Things will not always be like this.

Everything in high school lasts forever.  Being in love, depression, fights with your best friends, all the best and worst parts of your life are the most intense they will ever be and they seem to matter more. When you are growing up in a deeply unhealthy or abusive home, it’s hard to understand that the whole world doesn’t look like this. Make no mistake – love is a learned behavior. When we are raised in an emotionally unstable environment, that’s what we learn. When we’re taught that love isn’t a stable force and isn’t something to be relied on, that’s what we internalize. The most important thing I ever learned was that there was a different world out there somewhere and that possibly I didn’t always have to live the way I did growing up.

My brother and I went to go see a movie last week called The Way Way Back. It was an excellent movie and it was primarily about exactly this. A young boy in a bad situation. He has a shitty soon to be stepfather who makes him feel bad (played really fantastically by the wonderful Steve Carrell). It’s not exactly abuse but it’s a bad situation and he’s watching his mother walk into this really terrible relationship and he can’t do anything and he is frustrated and overwhelmed. What does love look like? Does it look like this? And through a series of dumb coincidences he ends up finding his place at a breaking down water park, run by a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow who takes an interest in him and cares about him. That’s it. He cares about him. Mostly they joke around, he does his job. They don’t have a lot of serious conversations but you can see him start to realize this very important lesson.

There are places he can belong.

I grew up not really understanding what it meant to love somebody or to be loved. I knew those words and I knew they were important and I knew I was fighting for it all of the time but I didn’t know what it looked like. I knew that it was really hard work and sometimes that’s true. But it’s not as hard as I thought. It’s not the constant bleeding that I thought it was. The truth is that there are really amazing, fucked up, imperfect people out there (because that’s all of us one way or another), who love freely and openly and who take you in on your best or worst days. There are so many families and so many homes. There are so many people willing to be on your side. That’s what changed everything for me and it still does on a sometimes daily basis. Wherever I am now, even if it sucks (and there are days that it does), this isn’t where I stay. It is harder to learn what love is like, giving and receiving, as a grown-up than I think it would have been as a kid. I’m pretty sure that’s a true thing and I struggle with it more days than I like to admit. But there are so many people I can look at and see that they love me and each other, so many people I’m able to love. I’m okay with that.