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.

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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!

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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.

SONNET 116 / ONE DAY YOU WILL BLOSSOM

Because here’s the thing–after 2019, I hated any gift I’d ever shown for eloquence. For a time, I consciously tried to strip my speech of grace and flourishes, saying as little as possible in conversation and using the plainest words I could find. The fall prior, 2018, I had counted the poems I’d written, a solid decade of effort, and realized I had enough for a slim book. I was thrilled. The act of writing had long given me a natural high, a kind of spiritual orgasmic state of energy and bliss that, to paraphrase Bjork, almost never let me down. When writing went well, words seemed to solve the very mysteries of life. Then, my brain went haywire and life fell apart. In the midst of agonies I don’t know how to describe, I wrote a hallucinatory email message that–because of the power of my words, still available to me as other faculties foundered–sounded purposeful and intended. The months that followed were months of shame and grief. My parents, recipients of said message, perceived immediately that something was wrong and never once reproached me, though from March to September, I had no explanation. I don’t know how I could have survived it if I’d hurt them. It took me a while to feel deserving of such unconditional love, and it’s taken me even longer to dare to care about my writing again. I feel similar transport doing therapy, and that’s such a steady supply of joy, I’ve barely missed the other source. But I took my manuscript out today, because a friend expressed interest, and remembered a comment once made to me: “Your poems make me want to kiss someone.” I can’t think of a better, more sustaining compliment.

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Text and image copyrights held by me. My posts have gotten shorter as I deal with other things. As ever, I’m grateful for your reading. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider sharing it with anyone you feel might like it, too.

FIRST DREAMS OF THE NEW YEAR

The sky was still black when I woke in awe from my first dreams of this new year. Other people’s dreams are, I know, commonly thought quite dull, but humor me — I’m still grateful to have been returned to a life in which I am able to sleep and wake normally, after 2019’s virulent nightmares and daymares that, yes, were hallucinations. This is the first time I’m typing that word for anyone to see.

2019 was the year I discovered the hard way that I have cavernous hemangiomas in my deep brain. They are little raspberry-shaped clusters of blood vessels that don’t belong and leaked into the tissue and cerebrospinal fluid and led to many extremely upsetting experiences. Among those were hallucinations and, following them, a kind of burial alive, six feet under the abject shame that my brain had failed me in that way, and that I hadn’t been able to recognize it or stop it from happening. Thankfully that shame has fallen away; it was a medical condition, inflammation in a region that’s acutely sensitive and, it is said, more complex than the whole universe. It could have happened to anyone, that vascular anomaly. Biology is not a meritocracy. Bodies we cultivate and care for can still be stricken by illness or accident.

Anyway — I have a friend, S, who just started teaching college courses. His field is religion. I asked him over the holidays what the word “mythopoetic” means to him, as it had drifted into my mind during our conversation. How strange that I should ask, he said, as he’d used that word for the very first time during a recent Zoom class.

In my dream, S volunteered to drive a young and impoverished pregnant woman, whom we’d happened to meet, ten hours to a prison to see the father of her child. Sitting in the passenger seat, the seat belt crossed over her belly, she looked at the wide country they traversed and spoke her thoughts aloud. Recounting this, S said to me, “I hope she’s able to find time as a single mother to write some of this down.” He told me what she’d said, gazing out the passenger window, that struck him the most: “When it comes to breath, there’s ‘my exhalation,’ which is lame — and ‘your exhalation,’ which is lame — and ‘the collective exhalation,’ which is lame — but when they gather over the sleeping land, they become spectral and beautiful.”

There’s some social realism in that dream; for example, the poor are far more likely to be imprisoned and sent far away from their families. It was her words, though, which I heard so distinctly in S’s voice, that made the greatest impression on me. The way I translate them for myself is, Regarding the essence of life, which ought to inspire and elevate, our discourse tends to fail and fall into cliches. Even so, there is a place beyond words where the echoes of words fall into a hush, and the true collective breath of all living things — the biosphere in its breathtaking mystery — maintains itself with or without us. Perhaps I found that as profound as I did because I was still half-asleep — but I looked at the clock and realized dawn was coming, so I made some coffee and drove out past the sleeping town to meet it. The sky was vast; the spectrum, diffuse, stretched along the length of the horizon. I was alive to the cold and the light. It was mythic. It was poetic.

Text and image copyrights on this site are held by me. The shame I experienced began to lift after I had my MRI and had a context for what had happened; but my ongoing hesitation to identify that I’d hallucinated points to, among other things, the deep internalization of stigma, as though a malfunctioning brain were a bruised fruit that might contaminate others. Feeling that way is dangerously isolating. Many thanks as always to those who’ve loved me through thick and thin, and those who gave me company in my pain. If you’d like to see more of this story, let me know, and I’ll try to write it — no promises! Happy New Year to one and all. EA