INTO DEEP WINTER

A visual expression of the mixed emotions of the holiday season.

mixed emotions at year’s end

December is a month of layers. Not just the warm shirts and sweaters of my Northern Hemisphere locale, but layers of feelings and memories, love and loneliness. In 2019 it brought resurrection, when I smiled my first genuine, spontaneous smile after nine months of wearing a public face and privately drowning in a black lake of tears and despair. The feeling of that smile, the difference of that smile, broke over me in gentlest waves of astonished pleasure and hope for the future.

While my brain was recovering from its neurological crisis—medically described with the worrying language of lesions and the –oma suffix that sounds as though it should be as warm as a childhood friend’s grandmother, but instead bodes ill—a neighbor’s actual brain cancer was worsening, her confusion and dependence advancing. She was only about twelve years older than me. The last time I saw her, her face seemed transformed, broad and blank where she was once focused and lively with extroversion and kind wit, as her husband slowly walked her up the sidewalk near their house. His right arm around her shoulder, his left hand clasping her left arm. That was before the darkest dark, balsam fir and wood smoke suspended in cold air, the extra cars parked up and down the street and the telltale lit windows of that same quiet house, seeming kindled as if all the light of their lives together were gathered there, where friends and family gathered after her memorial service.

I’ve been wanting to write about that smile, that neighbor. I was going to try today. Then I learned that a beloved mentor who has been battling cancer is now preparing for hospice and death. Someone who, after that resurrection, helped me find the ground under my feet and a path forward, in the space of one long beautiful conversation in February 2020. I met him in person for the first time late this summer, among people who’d known him much longer, at a party whose theme was “Why the Fuck Not?” I’m an introvert and had to compel myself to stay three hours until his speech, then left when the dancing began, music and voices rising above the grass to the roof-line and beyond. My windshield needed replacing, so it was better to drive the hour north before dusk and the refractions of oncoming traffic. That was my official logic. —And here I feel I should have more to say, but I see no way, I really see no way, to uncouple the joy and the pain, the love and the hurt of this life, and no way to capture it whole. Layer upon layer, wave after wave.

+

Text and image copyrights held by me. In a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. I’m contemplating adding a donation button; stay tuned. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.

NEVER HAVE YOU EVER?

Felt exuberant. Felt defeated. Felt physical or emotional pain. Felt confused. Forgot a name. Wondered if someone liked you, if someone hated you. Wondered if someone was thinking of you. Hoped. Felt repulsed. Felt betrayed. Felt disgust. Have you ever? Shivered in response to an unexplained sound. Felt someone’s eyes on you. Thought of someone lost to you through death or departure. Missed him/her/them. Grieved. Wondered about the universe, the meaning of life. The possibility of a hereafter—what it might be like. Felt empty; felt like a cliche. Had a ritual. Had a good luck charm. Felt mistrust; felt superstitious. Couldn’t get a song out of your head. Have you never? Cherished something. Cherished someone. Felt lonely. Felt loved. Experienced self-loathing, however brief. Saw a shape in a cloud, in the frost, in peeling paint. Anthropomorphized. Struggled to get out of bed. Felt different from other people. Felt transparent. Isolated, wept, couldn’t weep. Sought comfort, rejected it. Waxed nostalgic. Held one position so long that you couldn’t tell where one part of your body ended and another began. Felt that with a lover. Felt aroused. Climaxed. Obsessed. Pledged fidelity; changed. Felt rejected. Felt foolish. Felt your thoughts swirl, your heart race. Felt shamed by an internal critic. Struggled to draw breath. Saw or heard or felt something so beautiful, it hurt. So beautiful, it was almost intolerable. Been seized by fear. Said the wrong thing; spoke in anger. Struggled to find words. All these common experiences, these ordinary workings of the brain, differ from what we call “mental illness” not in substance, but in amplitude and harmonic impact. By that I mean: the brain is the organiest organ—synapses firing together form chords. Press the wrong keys, or too many at once, you get dissonance, cacophony—and deafening, at that. Even silence, in a compromised state, can roar. If you think you’re immune, think again. Be compassionate.

+

Text and image copyrights held by me. In a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. I’m contemplating adding a donation button; stay tuned. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.

JOYRIDE (TONIGHT I’M GONNA PARTY LIKE IT’S 2005)

The Truth About Hello Kitty | The New Yorker

I realized something crazy just now: If the movie review below were my progeny, it would be clutching its new driver’s license and begging to borrow the car!

So what is it doing here, sixteen years after the movie hit theaters? That’s a story for another day. Suffice to say, it was lost and is found, an odd and unexpected but nonetheless potent restoration to my heart and spirit, following the medical trauma of 2019. Perhaps a little wordy, but still relevant after all these years.

+

Monster-in-Law

rated PG-13

If Hello, Kitty is the cute face of Japanese anger, then the Hollywood romantic comedy may be the cute face of American aggression. 

Monster-in-Law, the latest example of this, is a film about one-upmanship as practiced by women. Or rather, caricatures of women. They seek to out-dress one another, they sabotage each other’s dinner dates, and they call each other names, all in competition for male attention. (This is familiar territory. In the old days, the brandished insult was “hussy.”) In between, they smile and preen and bat their eyes.

That one of the two women at the center of this story is a jealous mother, rather than a sexual rival, doesn’t diminish the competition. In fact, it’s amplified, to the point where the genre’s usual pasted-on smiles begin to look deranged. 

Viola (Jane Fonda) is the titular monster. (She’s postmenopausal, after all, and thus automatically qualifies to be at least a crone.) A TV journalist, Viola finds out as the film begins that she’s being replaced by a mere babe and promptly expresses her outrage by pouncing, on-air, on a 17-year-old pop star interviewee. Her demotion and subsequent meltdown is the plot-crutch on which the rest of the film hobbles forward. We’re meant to understand that Viola is a respected personality who’s socialized with umpteen newsmakers; a prima donna prone to tantrums; the victim of two recent, public humiliations involving younger women; and a very rich single mother with too much time on her hands. For all of these reasons, it’s supposed to make sense when she imagines slamming her future daughter-in-law’s bright face, repeatedly, into her lunch. It’s supposed to be funny.

But is it funny? We’re expected to laugh along with fantasies of brutality, after also obligingly sighing when Kevin (the son, played by Michael Vartan) woos Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) on the beach. (He describes her eyes – after one prior, brief encounter and while she stands with her back to him – in studied detail: “But when you look into the sun, they’re almost green – that’s my favorite.”) We’re supposed to accept “What are you doing for the rest of your life?” and (from the doting mother of the man in love) “I could kill that slut.”

Charlie, for her part, turns out to be no angel, drugging Viola and leaving her to sleep facedown on a plate of tripe (again, the face and the plate – someone could write a dissertation on this) while she snuggles, self-satisfied, into luxuriant pillows. In a court of law, would this be pardoned as self-defense against cackling laughter? A person, it should be noted, could suffocate in tripe. 

The slugging, the slapping, the drugging – these are all supposed to sit easy with us because the two women kiss and make up in the end. What a sleazy shill, what a nonstop con. Hello, Kitty gets away with one thing: she has no mouth, and thus there’s no way to identify her expression; we see what we want to see. Hollywood “rom-com’s” get away with everything – pets flushed down toilets, sucker-punches by toddlers, sexual degradation – so long, of course, as there’s a happy ending. Happy endings are just so cute!

+

This review originally appeared in a free weekly, now defunct. Text copyright held by me; image copyright most assuredly NOT held by me, or I’d be typing this postscript from a proper desk in a restored Victorian or Craftsman bungalow near the sea. Anyway: in a world overabundant with content, you landed here and read this far. Thank you. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.