Drive Part 2

The holiday season always makes me a bit more reflective.  Maybe it’s because a new year is upon us and I think that most of us would agree that 2016 has been one big (your choice of expletive language).  But even amongst those moments of disbelief that so many things could go wrong in one year, there were also sparks of utter joy.  My general approach to life is to try to see the good.  The more cynical individuals will argue that it might rob me of a certain depth to not wallow in that pity.  Sorry, but being smart and miserable are not one and the same.  I would argue that you’re missing out too.  Life can be one long dinner party with excellent conversation if you choose to be a good guest.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for every single blessing I have.  But that’s not to say that Andrew and I don’t work hard for every single thing we have.  There I said it, I work.  That word is probably the only word I have trouble saying with any semblance of confidence when trying to define where I stand in this world.  It was much easier when I was working towards a degree.  It was even simple when I was weeks away from defending a 200-page document that encompassed much of what I cared about for a few years.  But then, you reach a point when you can no longer define yourself so easily within a society that values certain markers of success.

A few weeks ago I heard Andrew tell our son C not to worry too much about “stuff” and to think more about who he is because that’s something that no one can take away from him.  Those words hit me hard because of the simple truth in it.  Is that what we all are building ourselves for?  It’s true, no one can take away my years of education and doctoral degree.  I know, that those “things” don’t go away even if you haven’t found a place for yourself with the credentials you’ve earned.  As a feminist I should be even more critical since I can see through everything that devalues what I do each and every day and the care I give someone else.  Like my mother said, maybe T was meant to grow up with me for a few years.  The bond I have with my son that I’ve forged by being there for him, day in and day out, is also not something that you can rob from me by placing me inside a box, or perhaps more appropriately, within the home.

I think this struggle with ourselves is just how driven, competitive women are built.  It is part of our muscle and sinew to want to be better, the best, to always want more.  The trouble is that sometimes these inner workings can make you a shadow of a person.  Empty people are not present because they’re already 10 years ahead of themselves.  Sometimes it it much healthier to practice some self-acceptance and to offer ourselves the kindness we try to offer others.  Thinking that “it is written” is not defeatist or lazy.  In some ways it allows you to take things in stride.

I know that there are so many women who are working through defining where they want to sit amongst this brave new world that allows us to have whatever we want.  Some of us have made choices but somehow placing the career ahead of so many other possibilities is sometimes seen to be more noble than being “good” in other, smaller, ways.  Smaller, not small.  Being a good mother is the hardest job I’ve ever done and trust me, I once worked in a restaurant hauling dishes up flights of stairs.  I am no princess.  The truth of the matter is that family members may believe that there are a million and one things that you should be doing.  Others worry that “women like you” will be destitute in the case of a divorce.  To these people I respectfully, and with the utmost care tell them to take their need to judge everyone out on some adult coloring books.  Also, newsflash is that many of us would probably marry again, or maybe, just maybe get back to our careers?

At the end of the day, if I know that I’m still trying to find my place in the world, I’m good with that.  Try is the operative word.  Believe it or not, most of us still wake up each morning hustling to reach larger goals.  And to the backseat drivers offering their pert opinions and concern, kindly get out of my car.

tumblr_nl14cy02lr1shcqiqo1_1280

Imagine that

Before I even turn the first page of a novel, I have to find the appropriate actor or actress to fill the part.  So many screenplays are now adapted from best-selling novels, so a trip to IMDB often suffices.  Why do we need those individuals in our mind’s eye?  Lets be honest now, they aren’t hard to look at either.

When I first read “Fifty shades of Grey” they were still casting for the roles so I was lucky enough to have my own image remain intact.  As many of you know, the book started as a fan fiction that was written for Bella and Edward from Twilight.  Well that’s easy then because you just have to imagine Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson playing some emotional and physical games.  Done.  As soon as the trailer for the actual movie was released though, my illusions were shattered and I knew I would never see the film.

First off, I personally do not know what the big scandal is with consensual BDSM.  To put it bluntly, it’s just what gets you off.  Some people like to be called sweetheart, others, well, prefer something else.  As long as it’s between two consenting adults, it’s none of our business.  We clearly have two very public instances of when it’s not alright, like when you slap a woman on the side of her head because you’re a quasi Canadian celebrity, or when you drug women to rape them.  That is not okay.

Returning to “Fifty shades” though, the casting was particularly disappointing because of the aesthetic.  I don’t think I’m being particularly superficial here since film-making is built on the principle of finding representatives to tell a story; part of that is how they look and carry themselves.  As soon as Jamie Dornan came on the screen I knew that he was too attractive and well, Dakota Johnson was a bit too sweet.  The appeal of Robert Pattinson is that he’s slightly dirty and disheveled but can still pull off a suit better than most men because he of his edge.  His history of participating in the underground London scene with all that it entails, including the substance abuse and complicated sexual pairings, somehow just is part of his physicality.  Similarly with Kristen Stewart, she doesn’t look like every other girl that you went to high school with.  Her features and personal style are a bit more unusual and couture.  She’s different and has an infuriatingly bratty attitude that you know would attract a damaged control freak like Christian Grey.

Though the writing is obviously not going to win a Pulitzer, the novel has its own market and appeal.  For all those people assuming that it’s only stifled housewives who are buying it, your thoughts are sexist and demeaning towards individuals who raised you.  Their free labour is in one of the hardest and most under-appreciated sectors in society.  Secondly, everyone has fantasies and it doesn’t make them a bad person.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  A high-horse on the other hand is nothing to be proud of.

tumblr_neh0bdZJVc1tr18amo1_1280

Wait, what?

There are some writers who hit you squarely in the stomach with their prose and you both love and hate them for it.  These individuals are so skilled that they can take you on a meandering, and at times boring journey which is punctuated with moments of absolute bliss.  Ha, much like the theme of life and one’s purpose within this universe that they write about.  But isn’t that the whole point of fiction?  To show us glimpses of our humanity?  To curate beauty and ugliness?

I just finished close to 800 pages of this type of narrative in Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch.  As much I don’t regret reading it, because it’s absolutely gorgeous, I also feel slightly peeved and cheated.  She strings us along and gets us invested in tragic Theo Decker, whom you hope and pray does not screw up his life any further than it already is.  You feel empathy that he’s lost his mother and you dearly wish that he will find a place to thrive.  But at the end, when Tartt suddenly lays it all out there, to offer up what she’s withheld so easily, I thought, really?  That’s what you decide to do with me as a reader?  After taking a breath though, I understand her method and motivation.  She’s trying to demonstrate that life is full of these complexities.  It’s inconstant, unfair and as long as you keep yelling its faults from the rooftops you’re only going to get in your own way.  Instead, why not try to go with the flow a little and take it as it comes?

A similar message is conveyed in Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, which to be honest I don’t remember the particulars of.  All I know is that it has something to do with trains, values and overbearing parents.  The take away though is, don’t wait.  All of this waiting for the timing to be perfect or for all of it to be aligned will just sweep away any chance you have of enjoying yourself.  We are never ready.  Above all, just do something, anything, to get on with it.  We so need more of this in our society: reminders to be good.

There is an endpoint, we all have one, so don’t be afraid of the fallout.  Everything gets rebuilt once more.

tumblr_nemtt1q14O1sl1jwro1_1280

Charm

For all intents and purposes I am now living in Stars Hollow.  If you don’t catch that reference, shame on you.  I demand that you catch up on the fabulousness that is “Gilmore Girls” on Netflix tonight.  Seriously though, small towns are particularly good at marking holidays and shifts in seasons with rituals and events.  We had a scarecrow festival.  Really.  It’s charming and lovely.

Having been exposed to the concept of small-town America through television shows, I now see the storylines and the characters’ motivations from a whole new perspective.  Obviously these insights are the generalized musings of a newcomer looking in.  Oh!  That’s why love lives were so interwoven in a fairly insular community.  I also understand why so much was at stake for a high school basketball team in “One Tree Hill.”  You’re literally cheering for your town’s history and identity.  If you’ve ever watched that show, I give so much respect to Lucas (Chad Michael Murray) for staying in the tiny town with his estranged biological dad, who was his mother’s high-school sweetheart; the man who never acknowledged him but chooses to love/pressure his half-brother Nathan (James Lafferty) instead.  Whew, that run-on sentence does not even begin to capture the complicated relationships explored in each episode.

My current setting is wholesome, polite and reserved, literally everything I hope for in a place.  I know that some may interject that beneath the veneer of civility there may be ignorance still.  Of course, any smile or sneer can be a cover for prejudice.  I just want to see the good in people and believe that they are interacting with each other with an open heart.

The everyday reality of living in a smaller town also means that the pace is slower and there are fewer choices.  Decisions are made easier when there are five beauty salons instead of forty.  It’s strange that these banal details mean so much to me but I never feel settled till all of that is sorted.  The first thing I wanted to do after being discharged from the hospital post-delivery was to get my eyebrows waxed.  After such a life-altering experience I wanted to ground myself with the mundane.  Plus, caring for these aspects of your physical appearance is so important.  When I was living in Thailand I literally had patches in my eyebrows because I refused to go a year without having them shaped.  These smaller negotiations are all part of finding your place and embedding yourself in the midst of it all.  After all, who wants to be a spectator of their own life?  Participate and be a part of something!  Plus, hair salons have the best gossip.

tumblr_n6ogaesvQm1taiftro1_500

Iconoclast

Remember when you were young and thought “when I grow up I will finally get to do whatever I want?”  We said it again and again, to get through awkward phases and strict curfews.  But you soon learn that being mature often means that you do things that you don’t particularly want to do because it makes other people happy.  But that’s fine, the rest of the time you set the agenda and you stay the course.

For the longest time I had a pixie cut.  When I was a child it was because Burma is a tropical country and it’s hot.  Then I moved to Canada and my mom wanted it to be neat and tidy.  In my adolescence it was because I swam.  During high school I just liked visiting the hairdresser and did not have the patience to grow it out.  Andrew teases me that my short hair kept him from being attracted to me initially.  I don’t doubt that there’s some truth to this because teenagers can be such tools, myself included.  I recall how everything meant something back then because we cared so much.  So in my youth there weren’t many actresses whom I could look up to or try to emulate.  Most of them were blond, hell in my school being blond meant that you were automatically pretty.  That is why I adored Winona Ryder and wanted to be exactly like her, minus the questionable taste in men.  She did date Matt Damon though before she started stealing lipsticks.  Sure she had her issues but she is talented and her bone structure is sublime.

I also liked the movie Reality Bites.  This film contributed to my fascination with love triangles for such a long time.  In real-life though these types of situations rarely produce good results.  People get hurt, aren’t particularly brave and more often than not you either settle or feel guilty.  I also liked the concept of working hard to make your dreams come true after college.  But again, I was suspicious of how it was portrayed.  Sure sure, it’s romantic to have fun with your friends and not sell out but damn, that life looked really hard and they kind of looked dirty.  Granted it was the early 90s, maybe now they’d all be wearing suspenders or something.  I didn’t actually want anything to do with this “cool” version either.

But the very best thing that this movie offers my generation is to heed us to take our time.  When everyone is telling you to just grow up already, remember to also enjoy yourself and keep sight of the prize.  Live and learn because you will get there.  Robert Pattinson once said in an interview that as soon as he started being known for his messy hair, he got a haircut.  Not all of us were meant to take the guided tour.

3b979cb10bb7a6e4a055d106a9f9018a

Boring

Shonda Rhimes says that “you don’t make history by being liked.”  In truth the quote is from her show How to get away with murder, but it feels silly citing a series that has not even completed its first season, so I’m going to credit its writer/producer instead.  They say that the most influential people are often polarizing.  I guess that’s what they mean by the “it” factor because whether you agree with them or not, they are certainly not ones who wait to be introduced.

Some will argue now that there are plenty of individuals who have achieved great feats without getting a rise out of people.  You might ask, who could have possibly disliked Gandhi?  Um, I’m pretty sure that the British government in power at the time was not too fond of him.  But when his cause mattered too much and people were counting on him for leadership, I don’t see him as someone who shed too many tears over their slights.

I can’t believe I’m about to put one of the figures of non-violent political strategies and a teen-queen in the same post but here goes.  There is a purpose, I promise.  Kristen Stewart.  People seem to love or hate her.  It doesn’t really help that she was part of the breakdown of a marriage and cheated on one of the most genuine celebrities to emerge in the past few years.  He looked at her with such adoration.  I don’t really get it but then again I didn’t date him.  Maybe his “genuine” self-depreciation just became whiny.  I’m pretty sure after awhile you want to tell partners like that to get their shit together.  Her personal life aside though, my first impression of Stewart was that she was very pretty and a good actress.  Her face is clean, open and pleasant, features-wise, well when she doesn’t look upset.  Her method is subtle and it seems to come naturally.  But I can understand how she could rub people the wrong way.  Angst is probably the first word you associate with her energy but I don’t think she ever sold herself as one of those shiny, happy people.  Kristen has appeal and will probably have a long career because whatever you think of her, she is not boring.

So there you go, two individuals who excelled in their own spheres partly because they were true to themselves.  It’s not meant to be a comparison by any means, they are on two totally different planes.  But these instances provide valuable insight into the fact that not everyone is going to like you.  As soon as you let that desire go, while still being a kind and respectful person, you lose such a burden and do not run the risk of trying too hard.  Desperation becomes no one.  Do you like yourself?  Well, alright then.  Don’t ever want to be anyone but yourself.

tumblr_mn1mtpi3y41r1zra4o1_500

So you go

In my mind Before Sunset is the most romantic movie ever made because you know, that’s what I would want in an encounter, to talk talk talk talk talk.  Seriously though, what is left unsaid, especially when the situation is complicated, is absolutely delicious.  It’s even better than acting on it because there is a tension.  A tension because you feel something and can either stack it up to a thing of your past or firmly place it in your future, fully aware of the damage that it will cause.  There’s the scale right?  To judge if it’s worth it?

I think different people will measure the stakes differently.  It’s clear that Jesse and Celine try very hard to be realistic and careful but they cannot help themselves.  I mean they couldn’t help themselves the first time.  You only get off a train with a perfect stranger if you’re up for those games.  And those are the best, most exhilarating games that you remember much later on when you have the “good” life.  Who doesn’t love the beginning when you don’t know someone very well but just know how much you like them?  Before Sunset is the best of the trilogy because those fantasies are more grounded.  At this point they’ve had some lovers and are more self-aware so they feel like they can be as objective about the dilemma as possible.  And so they go.

While I say it’s the best though, it’s certainly not the most real.  If you want honesty, as raw as it comes, then watch Before Midnight to see what true intimacy means.  Building a life with someone always results in scars and resentments right up there with the love.  It’s just the way it is.  So when you’ve been married and have had two kids, talk talk talk talking can be dangerous territory because you may not want it all to be said.  But I’m an optimist and like to think that they re-group and try again, precisely because of those moments by the Seine, when they were brave enough to say what they felt and not what they should have.  You do not bulldoze over your life for just anyone.

6b856f1e94d1e65efcdedf87b383c3f5

Do us part

It’s not particularly novel or cutting-edge to depict the dangers of marriage in popular culture.  It’s actually a service to society that the prevalence of domestic violence is brought to light.  Sadly they have a lot of material to work from.  To honor the release of the film Gone Girl, which I hope is infinitely better than the novel, I am going to feature two thrillers that are working within this genre.

There is a spoiler so skip over the next paragraph if you want to wait.  Actually, the whole post is a spoiler.  Stop here please if you want to wait.  Seriously.

I’ll get to the critique right off the bat.  The sad reality is that bullies on the playground sometimes grow up to be weak men who push around their wives.  But as soon as a writer creates a character like Amy who pushes back, she is of course absolutely crazy.  I’m not denying that she is, just that real-life women who are trying to leave emotionally and verbally abusive relationships are not one or the other, a weakling or a psychopath.  Adultery and never growing up are forms of emotional abuse in my books, Amy just goes way out of line for her just desserts.  The useful lesson from Gillian Flynn’s best-seller is to bring attention to the fact that women are not the only victims.  There is a reason why it’s called “spousal” abuse.

Another fighter is Christine in SJ Watson’s “Before I go to sleep.”  I read this book when we first moved to Massachusetts, in an empty condo with a sleeping child and my husband at work.  It scared the living daylights out of me to say the least.  Silence is not your best friend in these situations.  Christine is desperately trying to piece together her life after a horrific accident where she suffered severe memory loss.  Each morning she wakes up and cannot reclaim her short-term memory.  This results in her husband being a stranger and her telling herself that she is in love with him.  I’m not going to give much else away because it’s just too good to spoil.  Lets just say that something is not quite right and you too will be as desperate as her to figure out the “truth”.

Both novels also address the power of memory and how it’s very much shaped by context.  If you lost all those fragments tomorrow and had to rely on other people telling you the significance, just imagine how meaningless it would become.  It also reminds us how much we mediate on what we remember and change it.  There is no absolute truth and that’s what creates such a chasm between Amy, Christine and their sleaze bags husbands.  I think this is a great lesson here on how unhappy you can become if you put so much weight on making memories and capturing the happiness.  Sure, joy is meaningless when it’s not shared but being able to live for yourself would also make your life more sane and manageable.  Amy’s problem is that she is clueless to her own flaws.  Nick not remembering some random outing does not a thoughtless bastard make.  Probably gives some perspective to our own idiosyncrasies non?  To try to see the forest for the trees?

tumblr_n89vr4ZGay1sgqcb7o1_500

Racket

I watched Twilight.  Not just the first one but the whole damn saga and I’m not embarrassed in the least.  Someone with an Ivy League education was equally as excited to watch Eclipse with me at the Thai-Burma border.  So if it’s not above her all you judgey people can take a walk around the block.  Plus, it was mainly for Robert Pattinson.  Yes, my teenage dream transferred from Channing Tatum to that “complicated” London bloke.  Weird.  Though right now you might want to lay off some of the “stuff” Patty.  Just look at Leo Dicaprio to see what too much Ibiza does to the system.

Anyways, have you ever consumed popular books or films to see what exactly all the hype is about?  You soon learn that some of the praise is mainly created through noise and good PR while others actually do deliver.  But popularity produces targets and snobs who feel that these well-liked things aren’t particularly special.  The game-changers never like to be part of the crowd.  I get that, but sometimes it’s nice to smell the roses even if everyone and their mother are doing the same.

Now here’s my take on two blockbusters and one of them even has a Robert Pattinson connection.  Ha.  At the height of its hype it seemed like everyone was talking about “50 shades of Grey.”  Sure it’s not exactly Tolstoy or Ondaatje but it was still entertaining.  I don’t understand how people expect NPR content for every single thing that is produced and consumed in the world.  The smutty parts didn’t exactly thrill or shock me but was definitely an education.  It made me pause and say hmm, I didn’t know there was a method for that.  At the end of the day though it’s not the whips or the room full of toys that excited me.  It’s the powerful man I like, not the handcuffs he offers.  Give me a fully clothed man over Magic Mike any day.  Ideally he’d be reading a paper in the Paris sun with wayfarers and a nicely cut suit.  The Robert Pattinson connection is that “50 Shades” started out as a Twilight fanfic.  So, basically Patty is Christian Grey.  I dig that.  He looks accomplished without being too pretty.

The other successful novel that fully provides what it’s selling is “Crazy Rich Asians” but perhaps I like it for different reasons than the average reader.  It is set in the elite circles of Singapore where the wealth and privilege goes back generations and is not from recent investment in natural resources or whatever else is making money these days.  No, these families exploited people during the colonial era and actually did a good job of protecting their assets.  They were not subjugated by the Europeans but also had a hand in subjugating others.  The premise is that an educated Asian-American woman goes to visit her boyfriend’s family and quickly learns that she is out of her league in his world.  She can’t quite read the social signals or transactions and everyone thinks that she’s fond of him for the wrong reasons, when in fact she only recently learned of his privilege.  Plus clearly in their eyes she is not good enough for him since her blood does not have even a hit of blue.  The first thing I love about this concept is that we are not in Victorian England or Downton Abbey to witness how the upper echelon of racialized individuals operate.  Secondly, the very first chapter that takes place in a European hotel lobby makes up for every instance we’ve had to feel subhuman.  When we were thought to be uncouth (when we weren’t) or to loud (when we aren’t).  Again, the majority of us will never live this reality but the author Kevin Kwan does, and he does not hold back.  You know that he is writing about his cousin’s second wife’s mother-in-law or whomever else is part of his network.  God, I wonder if they still speak to him.  I promise that they turn a nose up that he’s selling their secrets for some pocket change.  The fact of the matter is though that in many societies it still matters who your grandparents were and what your name signals.  Of course there should be more social justice and vast differences in wealth disparity is unfortunate.  But there are certain practices that do stand the test of time.  I do agree that it is gauche to talk about money and there is something to be said about being secure enough about your positioning and where precisely you stand.  Pride and arrogance are two very different things and have varying outcomes.

I will forever roll my eyes at those who are too good for certain programs or products.  Sure, it many not be your thing but it doesn’t mean that someone else can’t find value or connect with it.  Yes, I would never watch those teenage mother shows but maybe it is someone’s current reality or will convince others to prioritize other endeavours.  It’s like these people want everyone to consume bran cereal all the time when a bit of marshmallows or raisins even could liven things up.  Come on now.

tumblr_n7dih8jcfn1taiftro1_500

The path

I picked up Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” precisely because she does the exact opposite of what I would do if I was having a tough time: she takes a hike.  No, literally she hikes the Pacific Crest trail.  God, I wouldn’t do it voluntarily much less when I’m trying to sort through some issues.  But this was Strayed’s path to reemerging from her destructive engagements with drugs and toxic relationships.  After losing her mother suddenly to cancer and having her personal life fall apart, those tactics of heroin and meaningless sex were an attempt to numb the pain.  “Wild” is how she found her way back.

There has been so much praise and press over this work but I was reluctant to commit to reading it.  Perhaps it’s because she takes on a task that is both daunting and completely unappealing to me.  Sometimes I don’t post certain images onto my Tumblr account because even though they’re pretty I know that I wouldn’t actually enjoy it.  You know those really grey pictures with cliffs and the ocean?  I know that in real life I would want to look at it for a total of 2 minutes, be cold and want to get back into the car to drive back to the inn.  If I needed the space to regroup I would either overcommit to work or be somewhere warm and uncomplicated.  In both scenarios I would be comfortable.  Even after forcing myself to give the book a shot there were sections where my eyes glazed over.  Really, it’s meaningless to me what material her sleeping bag is made of or what type of purifying salts she used.  But then as her story progressed I completely understood why she was providing her detailed shopping list.  She took on such a goal to return to the very basics.  Her life had become so full of distractions she needed to only focus on survival and keeping herself alive.  And those very material goods were what kept her from falling off an edge and disappearing for good.  By saving herself numerous times she was ashamed of her reckless behaviour previously.  She begins to respect her body again.

The hike itself is a metaphor for her personal journey and the plot twists make you wonder how it will all end.  In grade 11 we had to fit the life a famous person into the hero’s journey.  The whole purpose of this exercise was to teach you the elements of this type of narrative to incorporate into your own original work.  But tropes become that way for a reason: we all like to think that we are on a hero’s journey, that we will triumph in the end.  The pattern was pretty straightforward: there’s the beginning and childhood that’s fairly uneventful, a calling or talent that brings fame and notoriety, happiness, a setback and then the triumph.  I chose Billie Holliday and it was really difficult to fit her life into this design because she had had so many problems, the resolutions were not definite victories and her last few years weren’t exactly a triumph.  Then again, her art is her triumph and that will always remain right?  But still, this assignment taught me more about the ambiguities in life rather than how to write a good story.

Many of us hope for a long and happy life where at the end there will be a lot clarity.  Perhaps in our last years we’ll have so much time to reflect on how our life resembled the hero’s journey.  We’ll also be at the life stage where we’re more forgiving of ourselves and can rebrand mistakes as simply tests along the way.  Even if tragedy strikes and you don’t get this type of ending, those who loved you most will see your story in this way.  They will remember all of the good.  But if we all took on the attitude that it all gets sorted in the end would we have taken more chances along the way to live a bigger or grander life?  Perhaps we would chase after more of those dreams.  Maybe we wouldn’t give up so easily.  And that’s the best part of Cheryl Strayed’s story, she has the skill to use words and phrases to properly butcher people’s hearts.  She is raw, honest and forthcoming of all the ways she diverged and digressed.  But the best thing she teaches us is to keep on walking.  That we all end up somewhere.

tumblr_mtaoh74PCz1rzk7gpo1_1280