Lunchtable TV talk: The end of The Affair

lunchtable tv talk
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I don’t watch nearly the amount of television I used to, and even when I do, I don’t much feel the need to write about it like I once did (compulsively). But as I finished watching the final season of The Affair, I felt like I wanted to chronicle the various feelings I had as it came to a close. (For not being that invested in The Affair, I have written about it twice before… hmm. Clearly, over time, I warmed to it.)

What struck me most as the series ended and core characters drift back together is that it is truer to life in many ways than the extraneous drama of the series (or any series) would have us believe. Critics and viewers alike would criticize The Affair‘s frequent introduction of (in the big scheme, peripheral) characters who really didn’t fit or factor in (like the high school principal Noah gets involved with (Sanaa Lathan) or the French visiting professor, who seemed caricature-like in an uncharacteristically cliched performance from Irène Jacob)). Sometimes these characters – or events they prompted – come back in ways you don’t expect and are very important to the narrative – surprising the viewer in an almost This Is Us kind of way. While this can be both surprising and interesting for the narrative (as well as misleading, because we are getting only one perspective on something that may not have happened the way it appeared), it is also random in the kind of way we often experience in life. We have fleeting encounters that come back up later – for better or worse.

Some of these “surprises” or twists are more satisfying than others. I found the whole Sasha Mann story superfluous – it added nothing to the final season of the show. The Anna Paquin “future” scenes were awful, all the more because Paquin, if possible, is becoming a worse and less believable actress as her career continues (and she wasn’t great in the first place). Her storyline in the final season is completely unsatisfying, and the random people who pop up in her narrative thread feel very random until the story pops the surprise at the end, even if that part doesn’t feel gimmicky. But were these narrative missteps (the Anna Paquin/Joanie story) as much as they punctuated the very real theme of The Affair – how people come into our lives for intense, but often quite casual and temporary, moments and disappear just as rapidly as they moved in? Meanwhile other connections are lasting – like the central characters we have come to know in Dominic West‘s Noah and Maura Tierney‘s Helen. (And who on this earth doesn’t love Maura Tierney?)

Similarly you see in the end, through the eyes of both Noah and Helen’s eldest daughter Whitney, and Joanie, that when we are young we often see things in very “black and white”/”right and wrong” ways that tend to blur (significantly at times) with life experience and age. Things seem very “all or nothing” to the young; “old people” (anyone over 35) have lost their edge, mellowed, sold out, but it’s more a case of realizing what does and does not matter, how tangled, and intertwined our connections and relationships are, and how much pain and hurt rigidity and judgment of “right and wrong” can cause.  For the characters in this often flawed story (and what else could it be, dealing with flawed characters, told from each of their distinctive, subjective perspectives?), the power of forgiveness over time transforms their relationships and lives.

By the end of the series, it felt a lot like we were watching a completely different show from where it all started. Two of the four leads (Ruth Wilson‘s Alison and Joshua Jackson‘s Cole) weren’t in the last season at all. But the story had moved forward in any case, even if the presence of both characters continued to be felt. Yet their absence came across very much like the ‘real life’ feeling I took away from the series as a whole – sometimes people who play meaningful, real and serious roles in our lives are nevertheless temporary, whether it is because we grow apart, we find our own insecurities welling up and causing us to destroy our relationships, because people die, because people move to other places, because we find ourselves at different stages in our personal development than others who have been in our lives before… this is the stuff of life. We continue to move and grow, and those around us do, too. And through it all, we are weaving our meandering way through the lives of others, sometimes igniting a brief spark, sometimes leaving a deep mark.

lunchtable TV talk: this kind of nerd

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Many times, I have claimed that I have ‘given up’ television, and compared to what I used to inhale (night and day viewing, really), I have. I also don’t write obsessively about my thoughts on tv shows I do watch, so it looks like I’m following my own rules.

Yet, if I were to talk to almost anyone else I know, I still watch much more tv (however carefully selected it is now) than most people I know. I recently finished by the heartbreaking but often very funny, and always timely, Hap and Leonard (set in the 80s, yet with timeless and important themes, woven so tightly into the narrative that they never come across as “Important Themes”, such as those you’d see on “very special episodes of…”). It is also one of those shows that gets better with each season, which is one reason why I am pulling for renewal. (As the most recent season ends, there is no word on whether it will come back. But it really deserves to.)

I can’t really say enough about Hap and Leonard and the performances of its two leads, James Purefoy and Michael K. Williams. Both are actors I like anyway, but the humanity and depth of friendship/love for each other that they breathe into these characters puts both of them – and the show – over the top for me. I think it’s a shame that more people haven’t heard of the show. I suspect this may have something to do it with its being on the very quiet Sundance network, where many brilliant shows live quiet, critically acclaimed but often little-seen lives. This was certainly true of Rectify. Despite very few people seeing Rectify when it was on, Sundance let it continue to live – and I hope the same will be true for Hap and Leonard.

In Hap and Leonard, I also enjoy small nods to things in the show that may or may not be intentional, e.g. the sheriff in the racist town portrayed in the latest season is played by Corbin Bernsen, and as Hap and Leonard are driving through town while businesses are boarding up in anticipation of a big storm, the town cinema reader board displays the film Major League as what’s playing. If you don’t know or remember, Bernsen played a vain, aging, jack-ass baseball player in Major League (more similar to his role in LA Law than anything he has done in his later years).

Having sung the praises of Hap and Leonard and told everyone I can about it, I should also sing the praises of an Italian series, 1992 and 1993. Today I tried to moved on to watch 1993, an Italian drama that follows, logically, 1992. When I watched 1992 several years ago, I loved the storytelling and nods to that period in time (and learned a bit more about what was happening in Italy at the time). I have commented before that I am not entirely sure that there were *so many* Italians into the kinds of music that made up the 1992 soundtrack, but I can forgive that. What struck me is how the main character, an ad exec, Notte, whose savvy and forward-looking ability to see trends, leads him to politics and a bold, seemingly out-of-left-field prediction that someone like Silvio Berlusconi had a viable political future, something most others around him do not agree with. In my favorite part of the series, the Notte caused everyone around him to laugh, poking fun at his naivete in thinking that someone as ludicrous as Berlusconi could ever be a politician. One character, if I recall, argues something, through condescending laughter, like, ‘That would be like Schwarzenegger trying to be a politician.’ We all know now, of course, that both Berlusconi and Schwarzenegger went on to have dubiously successful political careers. But now, in the post-Trump era, the warnings about grotesque media figures like Berlusconi becoming politicians, and no one caring about the scandals, wrongdoing, corruption and rumors swirling around them, feel even more prescient and … sad.

I still didn’t get around to watching 1993, as it happens. I didn’t have time to pay as close attention as I would have needed to, so I turned instead to Westworld, which I tried to watch when it was new but couldn’t get into. Sometimes it just takes time, and I have managed to dive in. I don’t have anything particular to say about it because it’s not something that needs more attention or my amateurish praise. It’s far more important that less visible gems like Hap and Leonard get a polish and the chance to shine.

 

Press(ure) button: love

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Sometimes the squeeze you feel is like being in a trap, and all the mind can focus on is running – both figurative and literal. Running away, to anywhere, and literally … running there. Being unable to focus and fix oneself to one place, one destiny – to commit to one nature, one path. Jenny Erpenbeck writes in Visitation, which focuses on one single property that has changed hands over many decades:

“Someone who builds something is affixing his life to the earth. Embodying the act of staying put is his profession. Creating an interior. Digging deeper and deeper in a place where there is nothing.”

I thought about this a lot after reading the book, feeling closer to the idea that I could, rather than dig deep and plant roots, fill holes and run toward ever-greater nothingness. It could well be a case of feeling down, and thus inappropriately feeling sorry for myself. This will pass.

For a long time, my idea of running toward nothingness, or possibly emptiness, was to numb my mind with television. I mostly quit this vice, but there are still things I consume in this way – either as a process of multitasking or to disconnect briefly. Part of distancing myself from the unmemorable haze of visual opiates was the sense that I should reconnect with feeling, wherever that took me.

Perhaps, though, this sometimes makes me feel too much. Sometimes this is not a bad thing, and oddly, the ‘messages’ delivered are entirely unexpected. A show I am currently viewing, Counterpart, is a kind of sci-fi-ish thing that, while enjoyable and entertaining, has not offered a single episode that hasn’t in one way or another dealt with the concept of love and how unconditional love should be. Many characters have been playing roles with each other, hiding significant aspects of who they really are, and living lies. The recurring theme, though, is that to truly love someone, maybe you have to (learn to) love the lie.

The person you love is someone you may not truly know at all. Maybe you love the person they wanted you to love, the person they want to be, the person you want them to be. You may know the whole truth, live with some variation on that, but (choose to) love anyway.

“She’s human. She made mistakes. We worked through them. … I love her. I love her for everything she is and I love her for everything she isn’t. An in the end that capacity for love, the ability to love someone unselfishly is the only thing that will separate me from you.” (Counterpart)

This theme, weaving itself persuasively into the body of the show, is what makes me keep coming back for another episode. It’s thinking about this ability to love – and commit – to someone no matter what – and stick around for what happens, whatever unfolds, that brings me back to my first points. I do love unselfishly and unconditionally, but my own selfish desire to run, not to dig deeper and deeper into one place, that keeps me from sticking around for what happens.

 

No more sunlight on lunches

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When this year dawned, I gave up a lot of TV. Many know that I was basically addicted and was watching all kinds of shit. Sure, there were gems mixed in with the shit, but it was mostly… just shit. I cut way back, and in many ways have cut back on a lot of things while boosting the output/input of other things, such as reading books and aurally hoovering up a whole lot of music.

Also, apart from the increasingly rare lunch I spend working in an office environment, there is no lunchtable any more. No more lunchtable, no more lunches, no more lunchtable TV talk.

That said, there are still bits of TV-style content that seep in. Of late, Patriot, I Love Dick, Catastrophe, Goliath, Fargo, The Leftovers, Silicon Valley, The Americans, Better Call Saul, Bloodline … among a couple of other things, even American Gods, which I had no intention of watching since I have never read the book and did not have much interest in. Some of it has been quite entertaining but … on the whole, it’s not really for me any more.

Instead there is poetry and more poetry, and reading and re-reading “To Marina”, one of my long-time favorites, which I have now been reading and re-reading for as long as the 25 years the poet marvels at having passed in the poem itself. A poem that makes me think, makes me laugh, makes me wonder, makes me feel empty, makes me feel sad, makes me feel nostalgic, makes me feel imaginative and has been a part of my life, making me feel so many different things – and combinations of things – as my own life has changed.

To Marina
Kenneth Koch

So many convolutions and not enough simplicity!
When I had you to write to it
Was different. The quiet, dry Z
Leaped up to the front of the alphabet.
You sit, stilling your spoons
With one hand; you move them with the other.
Radio says, “God is a postmaster.”
You said, Zis is lawflee. And in the heat
Of writing to you I wrote simply. I thought
These are the best things I shall ever write
And have ever written. I thought of nothing but touching you
Thought of seeing you and, in a separate thought, of looking at you.
You were concentrated feeling and thought.
You were like the ocean
In which my poems were the swimming. I brought you
Earrings. You said, these are lawflee. We went
To some beach, where the sand was dirty. Just going in
To the bathing house with you drove me “out of my mind.”

It is wise to be witty. The shirt collar’s far away.
Men tramp up and down the city on this windy day.
I am feeling a-political as a shell
Brought off some fish. Twenty-one years
Ago I saw you and loved you still.
Still! It wasn’t plenty
Of time. Read Anatole France. Bored, a little. Read
Tolstoy, replaced and overcome. You read Stendhal.
I told you to. Where was replacement
Then? I don’t know. He shushed us back in to ourselves.
I used to understand

The highest excitement. Someone died
And you were distant. I went away
And made you distant. Where are you now? I see the chair
And hang onto it for sustenance. Good God how you kissed me
And I held you. You screamed
And I wasn’t bothered by anything. Was nearest you.

And you were so realistic
Preferring the Soviet Bookstore
To my literary dreams.
“You don’t like war,” you said
After reading a poem
In which I’d simply said I hated war
In a whole list of things. To you
It seemed a position, to me
It was all a flux, especially then.
I was in an
Unexpected situation.
Let’s take a walk
I wrote. And I love you as a sheriff
Searches for a walnut. And so unless
I’m going to see your face
Bien soon, and you said
You must take me away, and
Oh Kenneth
You like everything
To be pleasant. I was burning
Like an arch
Made out of trees.

I’m not sure we ever actually took a walk
We were so damned nervous. I was heading somewhere. And you had to
be
At an appointment, or else be found out! Illicit love!
It’s not a thing to think of. Nor is it when it’s licit!
It is too much! And it wasn’t enough. The achievement
I thought I saw possible when I loved you
Was that really achievement? Were you my
Last chance to feel that I had lost my chance?
I grew faint at your voice on the telephone.
Electricity and all colors were mine, and the tops of hills
And everything that breathes. That was a feeling. Certain
Artistic careers had not even started. And I
Could have surpassed them. I could have I think put the
Whole world under our feet. You were in the restaurant. It
Was Chinese. We have walked three blocks. Or four blocks. It is New
York
In nineteen fifty-three. Nothing has as yet happened
That will ever happen and will mean as much to me. You smile, and turn
your head.
What rocketing there was in my face and in my head
And bombing everywhere in my body
I loved you I knew suddenly
That nothing had meant anything like you
I must have hoped (crazily) that something would
As if thinking you were the person I had become.

My sleep is beginning to be begun. And the sheets were on the bed.
A clock rang a bird’s song rattled into my typewriter.
I had been thinking about songs which were very abstract.
It was really a table. Now, the telephone. Hello, what?
What is my life like now? Engaged, studying and looking around
The library, teaching—I took it rather easy
A little too easy—we went to the ballet
Then dark becomes the light (blinding) of the next eighty days
Orchestra cup become As beautiful as an orchestra or a cup, and
Locked climbs becomes If we were locked, well not quite, rather
Oh penniless could I really die, and I understood everything
Which before was running this way and that in my head
I saw titles, volumes, and suns I felt the hot
Pressure of your hands in that restaurant
To which, along with glasses, plates, lamps, lusters,
Tablecloths, napkins, and all the other junk
You added my life for it was entirely in your hands then—
My life Yours, My Sister Life of Pasternak’s beautiful title
My life without a life, my life in a life, my life impure
And my life pure, life seen as an entity
One death and a variety of days
And only on life.

I wasn’t ready
For you.

I understood nothing
Seemingly except my feelings
You were whirling
In your life
I was keeping
Everything in my head
An artist friend’s apartment
Five flights up the
Lower East Side nineteen
Fifty-something I don’t know
What we made love the first time I
Almost died I had never felt
That way it was like being stamped on in Hell
It was roses of Heaven
My friends seemed turned to me to empty shell

On the railroad train’s red velvet back
You put your hand in mine and said
“I told him”
Or was it the time after that?
I said Why did you
Do that you said I thought
It was over. Why Because you were so
Nervous of my being there it was something I thought

I read Tolstoy. You said
I don’t like the way it turns out (Anna
Karenina) I had just liked the strength
Of the feeling you thought
About the end. I wanted
To I don’t know what never leave you
Five flights up the June
Street empties of fans, cups, kites, cops, eats, nights, no
The night was there
And something like air I love you Marina
Eighty-five days
Four thousand three hundred and sixty-
Two minutes all poetry was changed
For me what did I do in exchange
I am selfish, afraid you are
Overwhelmingly parade, back, sunshine, dreams
Later thousands of dreams

You said
You make me feel nawble (noble). I said
Yes. I said
To nothingness, This is all poems. Another one said (later)
That is so American. You were Russian
You thought of your feelings, one said, not of her,
Not of the real situation. But my feelings were a part,
They were the force of the real situation. Truer to say I thought
Not of the whole situation
For your husband was also a part
And your feelings about your child were a part
And all my other feelings were a part. We
Turned this way and that, up-
Stairs then down
Into the streets.
Did I die because I didn’t stay with you?
Or what did I lose of my life? I lose
You. I put you
In everything I wrote.

I used that precious material I put it in forms
Also I wanted to break down the forms
Poetry was a real occupation
To hell with the norms, with what is already written
Twenty-nine in love finds pure expression
Twenty-nine years you my whole life’s digression
Not taken and Oh Kenneth
Everything afterwards seemed nowhere near
What I could do then in several minutes—
I wrote,
“I want to look at you all day long
Because you are mine.”

I am twenty-nine, pocket flap folded
And I am smiling I am looking out at a world that
I significantly re-created from inside
Out of contradictory actions and emotions. I look like a silly child that
Photograph that year—big glasses, unthought-of clothes,
A suit, slight mess in general, cropped hair. And someone liked me,
Loved me a lot, I think. And someone else had, you had too. I was
Undrenched by the tears I’d shed later about this whole thing when
I’d telephone you I’d be all nerves, though in fact
All life was a factor and all my nerves were in my head. I feel
Peculiar. Or I feel nothing. I am thinking about this poem. I am thinking
about your raincoat,
I am worried about the tactfulness,
About the truth of what I say.

I am thinking about my standards for my actions
About what they were
You raised my standards for harmony and for happiness so much
And, too, the sense of a center
Which did amazing things for my taste
But my taste for action? For honesty, for directness in behavior?
I believe I simply never felt that anything could go wrong
This was abject stupidity
I also was careless in how I drove then and in what I ate
And drank it was easier to feel that nothing could go wrong
I had those feelings. I
Did not those things. I was involved in such and such
A situation, artistically and socially. We never spent a night
Together it is the New York of
Aquamarine sunshine and the Loew’s Theater’s blazing swing of light
In the middle of the day

Let’s take a walk
Into the world
Where if our shoes get white
With snow, is it snow, Marina,
Is it snow or light?
Let’s take a walk

Every detail is everything in its place (Aristotle). Literature is a cup
And we are the malted. The time is a glass. A June bug comes
And a carpenter spits on a plane, the flowers ruffle ear rings.
I am so dumb-looking. And you are so beautiful.

Sitting in the Hudson Tube
Walking up the fusky street
Always waiting to see you
You the original creation of all my You, you the you
In every poem the hidden one whom I am talking to
Worked at Bamberger’s once I went with you to Cerutti’s
Bar—on Madison Avenue? I held your hand and you said
Kenneth you are playing with fire. I said
Something witty in reply.
It was the time of the McCarthy trial
Hot sunlight on lunches. You squirted
Red wine into my mouth.
My feelings were like a fire my words became very clear
My psyche or whatever it is that puts together motions and emotions
Was unprepared. There was a good part
And an alarmingly bad part which didn’t correspond—
No letters! No seeming connection! Your slim pale hand
It actually was, your blondness and your turning-around-to-me look
Good-bye Kenneth.

No, Marina, don’t go
And what had been before would come after
Not to be mysterious we’d be together make love again
It was the wildest thing I’ve done
I can hardly remember it
It has gotten by now
So mixed up with losing you
The two almost seemed in some way the same. You
Wore something soft—angora? Cashmere?
I remember that it was black, You turned around
And on such a spring day which went on and on and on
I actually think I felt that I could keep
The strongest of all feelings contained inside me
Producing endless emotional designs.

With the incomparable feeling of rising and of being like a banner
Twenty seconds worth twenty-five years
With feeling noble extremely mobile and very free
With Taking a Walk With You, West Wind, In Love With You, and
Yellow Roses
With pleasure I felt my leg muscles and my brain couldn’t hold
With the Empire State Building the restaurant your wrist bones with
Greenwich Avenue
In nineteen fifty-one with heat humidity a dog pissing with neon
With the feeling that at last
My body had something to do and so did my mind

You sit
At the window. You call
Me, across Paris,
Amsterdam, New
York. Kenneth!
My Soviet
Girlhood. My
Spring, summer
And fall. Do you
Know you have
Missed some of them?
Almost all. I am
Waiting and I
Am fading I
Am fainting I’m
In a degrading state
Of inactivity. A ball
Rolls in the gutter. I have
Two hands to
Stop it. I am
A flower I pick
The vendor his
Clothes getting up
Too early and
What is it makes this rose
Into what is more fragrant than what is not?

I am stunned I am feeling tortured
By “A man of words and not a man of deeds”

I was waiting in a taxicab
It was white letters in white paints it was you
Spring comes, summer, then fall
And winter. We really have missed
All of that, whatever else there was
In those years so sanded by our absence.
I never saw you for as long as half a day

You were crying outside the bus station
And I was crying—
I knew that this really was my life—
I kept thinking of how we were crying
Later, when I was speaking, driving, walking,
Looking at doorways and colors, mysterious entrances
Sometimes I’d be pierced as by a needle
Sometimes be feverish as from a word
Books closed and I’d think
I can’t read this book, I threw away my life
These held on to their lives. I was
Excited by praise from anyone, startled by criticism, always hating it
Traveling around Europe and being excited
It was all in reference to you
And feeling I was not gradually forgetting
What your temples and cheekbones looked like
And always with this secret

Later I thought that what I had done was reasonable
It may have been reasonable
I also thought that I saw what had appealed to me
So much about you, the way you responded
To everything your excitement about
Me, I had never seen that. And the fact
That you were Russian, very mysterious, all that I didn’t know
About you—and you didn’t know
Me, for I was as strange to you as you were to me.
You were like my first trip to France you had
Made no assumptions. I could be
Clearly and Passionately and
Nobly (as you’d said) who I was—at the outer limits of my life
Of my life as my life could be
Ideally. But what about the dark part all this lifted
Me out of? Would my bad moods, my uncertainties, my
Distrust of people I was close to, the
Twisty parts of my ambition, my
Envy, all have gone away? And if
They hadn’t gone, what? For didn’t I need
All the strength you made me feel I had, to deal
With the difficulties of really having you?
Where could we have been? But I saw so many new possibilities
That it made me rather hate reality
Or I think perhaps I already did
I didn’t care about the consequences
Because they weren’t “poetic” weren’t “ideal”

And oh well you said we walk along
Your white dress your blue dress your green
Blouse with sleeves then one without
Sleeves and we are speaking
Of things but not of very much because underneath it
I am raving I am boiling I am afraid
You ask me Kenneth what are you thinking
If I could say
It all then I thought if I could say
Exactly everything and have it still be as beautiful
Billowing over, riding over both our doubts
Some kind of perfection and what did I actually
Say? Marina it’s late. Marina
It’s early. I love you. Or else, What’s this street?
You were the perfection of my life
And I couldn’t have you. That is, I didn’t.
I couldn’t think. I wrote, instead. I would have had
To think hard, to figure everything out
About how I could be with you,
Really, which I couldn’t do
In those moments of permanence we had
As we walked along.

We walk through the park in the sun. It is the end.
You phone me. I send you a telegram. It
Is the end. I keep
Thinking about you, grieving about you. It is the end. I write
Poems about you, to you. They
Are no longer simple. No longer
Are you there to see every day or
Every other or every third or fourth warm day
And now it has been twenty-five years
But those feelings kept orchestrating I mean rehearsing
Rehearsing in my and tuning up
While I was doing a thousand other things, the band
Is ready, I am over fifty years old and there’s no you—
And no me, either, not as I was then,
When it was the Renaissance
Filtered through my nerves and weakness
Of nineteen fifty-four or fifty-three,
When I had you to write to, when I could see you
And it could change.

A palate-cleansing sorbet of trivialities

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Having contemplated a blogging hiatus recently, I briefly put the idea of a hiatus on hiatus. Now I am back to considering a break from it. I suppose it’s not like a store or job where you have to formally shut things down or go on sabbatical – I just follow the ‘inspiration’ for pouring out the contents of my sometimes addled mind as it (inspiration, not the mind) comes (or goes).

I am channeling this energy into an offline project that is moving forward very quickly, and it’s eating every bit of creative marrow I’ve got in my bones. Thus I will potentially write blog posts when I need to unload or unwind. It seems that my most prolific blog writing periods happen when I am thinking too much, overanalyzing and in periods of intense emotional confusion or anguish or something. (Anguish may be too strong a word, but I like it, so I will leave it.) Once free of these things, the feverish urge to blog floats away. Blogging is, in some ways, a kind of existential palate cleanser.

I finished Infinite Jest – finally. As I wrote before, I marveled at its massive depth and breadth but cannot say I liked it. It was laborious to read at times, and I could not wait for it to be finished. I am still reading six other books, though – some great and some for fun (all my ‘hone your psychic abilities’ books are in fun; I have, after all,  to fulfill the psychic destiny one of my exes claimed I had when, while hiking along for many silent hours near Háifoss in Iceland, I randomly blurted out, “Sorbet is a vegan dessert!”. He looked at me as though he’d seen a ghost, and said, “I was just right then thinking about how my grandmother used to make sorbet.”)

I watched the second season of Love on Netflix – it’s easy enough viewing but only remarkable in that “I’ll Be Your Mirror” plays at the end of one episode and made me think back to a moment in time – so very long ago – when I was briefly involved with a Polish guy who made me possibly the most eclectic music tapes ever, and I think he was the first to introduce me to the Velvet Underground (starting with this song). I also recall that he had nothing but critical disdain for the United States – but many years after we had lost contact, I discovered that, after returning to Poland for a number of years, he eventually made a permanent home in, of all places, the American South (that’s a familiar trope, though – the “America Haters” who end up living there quite comfortably in the end).

I’ve cut back immensely on the TV viewing, but there are still things I watch – such as the aforementioned Love, binged in an afternoon; Girls – I’ve hate-watched the whole series, so why would I not complete the circle by watching its final season?; The Americans – it’s one of the best shows ever, and somehow more relevant than ever… and other stuff as well, but it is true that once I broke the cycle (ha!) it seemed quite dull to return to the majority of shows I’d mindlessly been sucking in.

Otherwise, life is work, creative projects, a series of last-minute travel or guests and always hoping for sunlight over the dismally, stormy greyness that pervades today. Nice weather, too, is a palate cleanser.

Letters of the Unliving (Mina Loy)
The present implies presence
thus
unauthorized by the present
these letters are left authorless–
have lost all origin
since the inscribing hand
lost life.

The hoarseness of the past
croaks
from creased leaves
covered with unwritten writing
since death’s erasure
of the writer–
erased the lover

Well-chosen and so ill-relinquished
the husband heartsease–
acme of communion–

made euphonious
our esoteric universe.

Ego’s oasis now’s
the sole companion.

My body and my reason
you left to the drought of your dying:
the longing and the lack
of a racked creature
shouting
to an unanswering hiatus
“reunite us!”

till slyly
patience creeps up on passion
and the elation of youth
dwindles out of season.

Agony
ends in an equal grave
with ecstasy.

An uneasy mist
rises from this calligraphy of recollection
documenting a terror of dementia.

This package of ago
creaks with the horror of echo.

The bloom of love
decoyed
to decay by the finger
of Hazard the swindler–
deathly handler who leaves
no post-mortem mask
but a callous earth.

Posing the extreme enigma
in my Bewilderness
can your face excelling Adonis
have ceased to be
or ever have had existence?

With you no longer the addresser
there is no addressee
to dally with defunct reality.

Can one who still has being
be inexistent?

I am become
dumb
in answer
to your dead language of amor.

Diminuendo
of life’s imposture
implies no possible retrial
by my present self–
my cloud-corpse
beshadowing your shroud.

The one I was with you:
inhumed in chasms.
No creator
reconstrues scar-tissue
to shine as birth-star.

But to my sub-cerebral surprise
at last on blase sorrow
dawns an iota of disgust
for life’s intemperance:

“As once you were”

Withhold your ghostly reference
to the sweet once were we.

Leave me
my final illiteracy
of memory’s languor–

my preference
to drift in lenient coma
an older Ophelia
on Lethe.

Photo (c) 2008 Angela Schmeidel Randall used under Creative Commons license.

To deal with the times: Don’t go numb

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“How inured to that do I want to get?”
“Just enough.” (from this week’s episode of Madam Secretary)

The problem we face, beyond the immediate stripping of democratic tradition and human rights, and all the diversionary fires set to distract us, is our own boredom, our own fatigue, our own journey toward being inured to what is happening: “It isn’t so bad.”

Almost everyone knows that the intensity of any feeling cannot be sustained: anger, passion, love. Perhaps especially the attention span. We have neither the attention span for sustained fighting, even if we have our own lifelong cause, nor the attention span to maintain laser-like focus on one thing while all the distractions explode all around us. And that’s what is counted on – at least with the way things are going in the politics and government section of society. Isn’t that kind of everything, though? Society and our place in it? We know what happens if we bury our heads in the sand: nothing good.

Where is the line between burying our heads/distracting ourselves/avoiding reality and allowing ourselves some diversion to regain our strength and focus, to learn and prepare for everything the world is throwing at us? Something that keeps us from burning out?

I had a conversation the other day that made me think of the concept of ‘burning out’. It was about learning languages, actually, and how I took on languages as though it were a PAC-MAN game. Keep gorging. Gobble gobble gobble. Naturally I burned out on the whole idea of being a student.

J: When I was 22, I wanted to play frisbee and kiss girls.
Me: I loved learning languages much more when I was young. Now I would prefer kissing girls and running through the forest.
J: Well – a true Renaissance woman would be able to do all of those things. Concomitantly.
Me: I burned myself out on studiousness.

I had, back then, and even throughout my 20s, believed that I would always be a student. (Yes, we are always students throughout our lives – learning never ends unless we are willfully ignorant and closed off. Here I refer to living as a formal student, enrolled in a study program.) It became so much a part of who I was that it stopped having much meaning. And this, too, is a symptom of the aforementioned malaise/”issue fatigue”: even when you are not only passionate about a cause, but your life or livelihood depends on it (healthcare activists, equality/civil rights activists, etc.), you still get so beaten up and worn down that the fight, too, can start to feel meaningless.

Once I was burned out on applying myself to studies, I focused on other things and purposely tried to numb myself with overdoses of work and TV. I stopped reading because I wanted to sidestep meaning and feeling. Incidentally, a lot of formal education feels like it is designed to sidestep meaning, feeling and independent thought, which is why we also need committed education activists who prioritize the fostering of creative and independent thinking. (“Poetry is important for the teaching of writing and reading.”)

This numbness is the most dangerous thing. We must in these times find the path that lets us balance the pain and frustration against the will to fight and hope for something better (that we may never see).

…As a side note, at least not every interaction with television is empty; in a recent episode of Call the Midwife, we experienced real beauty with a taste of Federico Garcia Lorca.

And in Madam Secretary, a most apt Kierkegaard quote:
“The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you’ll never have.”

It’s True
-Federico Garcia Lorca
Ay, the pain it costs me
to love you as I love you!
For love of you, the air, it hurts,
and my heart,
and my hat, they hurt me.
Who would buy it from me,
this ribbon I am holding,
and this sadness of cotton,
white, for making handkerchiefs with?
Ay, the pain it costs me
to love you as I love you!

Es verdad
¡Ay que trabajo me cuesta
quererte como te quiero!
Por tu amor me duele el aire,
el corazón
y el sombrero.
¿Quien me compraria a mi,
este cintillo que tengo
y esta tristeza de hilo
blanco, para hacer panuelos?
¡Ay que trabajo me cuesta
quererte como te quiero!

Photo (c) 2013 Justin Elliott

Revisiting Divorce

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I cannot believe that I am writing about a show like Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce – again. I would have, when it began, sooner shot myself than watch it. And watching the first season, it was as bad as I feared. It was one of my big hate-watch shows. But in the subsequent seasons, it has sometimes knocked the wind out of its characters – shown them and their glitzy lives as being far from perfect, shown some struggles and shown the consequences of the girlfriends’ frequent poor decision making. It’s still totally unrealistic and the characters are a bunch of self-absorbed assholes. But there are tiny glimpses of realism now and then that humanize the nonsense and fluff.

And occasionally it hits some nerves. In the final episode of the latest season, messy, selfish protagonist Abby is newly entangled in an affair with a guy who is in the midst of a very fresh (as in, he has not even moved out of the house or started divorce proceedings) divorce. She tries to overlook all the warning signs, her constant string of hurts and wounds, his tendency to shut down and completely avoid her, because their connection, as she herself says, “It’s great, it’s rare, and that’s why we should stop now.” She had been through a divorce that dragged on painfully (as breaking up, particularly in a long and messily intertwined relationship, does) over the course of the first two seasons. The guy, Mike, tries to insist that he is solid and ready, but Abby knows from experience that he is wrong. She argues that everyone told her that you can write off the first full year after a divorce because you are and will be “certifiable”; she tells Mike she ‘ruined’ a man because she was so raw and not ready. Maybe the timing is wrong, they tell each other, so maybe the door is not shut forever, but for now, she has firmly closed it.

At the very end, I was relieved and uplifted, actually, by the fact that instead of chasing the man or relationship or changing her mind about closing the door, Abby has her ‘epiphany’ and runs to her former colleague and friend to enlist her help in launching a website for women their age. Not that love – or whatever – is not important – but it’s no more important than deciding you’re not taking any more shit, not going to answer to anyone else, and will not get tired of waiting while you’re being jerked around.

Contact melt: Habits and confidence

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“I’m sad, sad… and I see you”

Yesterday it was bright, sunny and warm and the snow and ice that had covered everything completely melted. It promptly refroze around the time I was driving home in the evening. Once more I encountered the salt truck along the road, flinging salt pellets onto the glistening road surface and onto the car.

Otherwise it was a day of unexpected contact – hearing from people I don’t normally speak much with or write to. Some got in touch to comment on this blog; some got in touch to ask for a confidence boost; one even got in touch to subject himself to inspection (as though he were a race horse for purchase or I were a flight surgeon assessing his fitness for flight).

I was surprised about hearing from people regarding my blogging. Not because I think no one reads it but because I have no idea who is reading it. When you write a blog, you are mostly doing it for yourself. At least I am. If you are like me, it’s kind of an extension of your interactions with dead platforms like LiveJournal. Except that a standalone blog is not really part of a community and, being a disconnected ‘thing’ as it is, I am not hoping for or writing for an audience. Nevertheless I have had so much feedback from people about whom I had no inkling that they were “following along”.

A few weeks ago a friend recognized the slightest reference to her and wrote to me at length to explain and help me understand her better. A few days ago a friend commented, something about how much she related to what I had written. Yesterday, two friends (a longtime pen pal and an acquaintance from the LiveJournal days) wrote encouraging words about how they were helped by or even inspired by what they were reading. Well, one guy said it made him a bit jealous because I made it look easy but he knows from experience that it isn’t. I responded with something about just starting to do it – forcing yourself to do it. Ultimately it is about forming a habit. I have made this be a habit for me – arguing with myself about how I need to write something every single day, even if there is not something to write about – to keep the habit going. There are days that it won’t happen, but approaching with sincere intent is the point. I did not write a word after the mid-November death of my uncle. It was almost six weeks before I wrote again (sure, there was too much going on in the silent interim; also though, I felt tired and the loss depleted my ability to share). But even those long lulls/breaks have to be temporary – and I think we all know that this same thinking applies to anything that can be hard to stick to – writing, exercise, healthy eating, or any other promises we make to ourselves.

About forming habits, though, I come to another conversation I had yesterday. Someone I have known for more than half my life called me to get a boost of confidence before he went on a date. It’s been a long time since he dated, and he had all kinds of nerves and anxiety buzzing around in his head. His turning to me in his personal crises is a habit he formed as far back as 1990. Once we had covered his dating anxiety and how bad he is with small talk, he asked me something about my personal life and predicted that if I don’t have a relationship with someone who is obsessed with TV, it will end. Yes, scientific data. I argued that maybe there are other things to do than watch TV; he countered: “But what about when you are old? Like 60, 70, and like most older couples you will just want to sit and turn on the TV.” Perplexed, I said, “Well, maybe a couple could… take a walk? Or read?” He was incredulous, “Do you really think you will read when you are 60?!

WHAAAAAAAAAAT? Do people just stop reading, suddenly, when they hit a certain age? Why wouldn’t I read? Yet once again it’s about habits formed. Most people in my life are stubborn, lifelong readers. My grandmother was obsessed with reading until she lost her sight completely (by then she was well into her 80s) and even then others read for her. Not a single person I know (other than people who never formed reading habits) will ever sacrifice reading. I’ve always been a binge reader, inhaling a book every day for several weeks and then dropping reading for months, or in the case of recent times – even years. This year I am trying to be more methodical and balanced, folding the habit into my daily life consistently. (Especially because I did cut out my obsessive TV viewing and am only watching a couple of shows that are actually interesting to me now. I don’t miss the meaningless noise.)

As for habits, good and bad, another contact got in touch to get my opinion on whether I thought he could handle a social engagement that would be, at best, challenging. The guy is fairly freshly sober but for the first time in all his attempts at sobriety seems to take it seriously, understanding it as a life-or-death matter. A group of his old friends contacted him asking him to meet up at a pub. He has lamented for years that he has lost touch with this group of friends. He felt 100% sure he could handle this – the pub environment, the being surrounded by friends drinking excessively, the potential, “Come on, mate, one beer won’t hurt” pressures – and that he could control the situation/set boundaries, i.e. take a limited amount of money, visualize drinking Diet Coke, plan to attend an AA meeting that evening (meaning he would only stay with these friends for about an hour) and inform his contact at the meeting that he planned to attend, and then come home immediately after the meeting to call me on Skype so I could hear and see him (the aforementioned “inspection”) to prove that he had not succumbed to drinking. I expressed my doubts and reservations; he decided to go anyway. I felt particular doubt because he claimed he did not want these friends to know his business so did not want to tell them that he is an alcoholic.

In the end, he did meet the friends, and telling them about his struggles turned out to be a moot point. He had forgotten that he had run into one of the group over a year ago and had told that friend about his troubles with alcohol, and that friend had told the rest of the group, so there were no surprises, and they were all supportive. He stuck to the game plan and “presented himself for inspection” that evening after his meeting. Sober. Not that I think he should be “tempting fate” in this way, but he was rather elated that he did not feel any temptation and could interact with friends without feeling he had to drink.

In letting go of old, bad habits and adopting new, positive ones, we also build confidence – which in turn strengthens our resolve to deepen and stick with the new habits.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Fleabag

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That quiet lull between the summer TV season and the standard, full-throttle autumn season gave me an opportunity to watch some stuff I might not have, such as the ITV production Victoria (don’t bother – it’s kind of crap except for Rufus Sewell, who is always good even when he is given crap material to work with; still, the series was renewed for a second season) and the dark comedy self-humiliation fest that is Fleabag. Let’s not get into the fact that I also dipped my toe (oh, who am I kidding? I jumped in the deep end) into the six seasons of Sex & the City, which I had so carefully avoided during its first incarnation. Despite there being no shortage of original summer programming that began and ended in almost staggered shifts, I still found myself, at times, with an empty queue (have watched most of what interests me so far on HBO Nordic and Amazon; can only access Swedish Netflix now so there are a lot of lovely films I cannot see in my old American queue. Kind of frustrating because I was not even trying to cheat the system: I pay for both an American and a Swedish subscription).

Maybe it’s this “empty queue” idea that also drives the nameless anti-heroine of Fleabag. She’s very funny, very awkward and a total mess – and she knows it. She breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the viewer quite often, and it works. I keep seeing lazy comparisons to Bridget Jones and Girls’s Hannah Horvath – but as I write, these are just that – lazy. Our nameless mess of a woman is so much more than both and completely confident in her lack of self-confidence. (Must be – even The Economist got in on the action of writing about Fleabag.)

It’s funny, it’s ironic, it’s sarcastic, it’s pretty realistic, and in that way, it’s also heartbreaking. It somehow manages to be both the wound and the salt you pour into it yourself because you think you deserve to suffer, or like Canadian poet PK Page posits, because you believe that “suffering confers identity”. For the show’s lead, her “empty queue” is not a tv-watching list: it’s the emptiness of her life without her best friend, who has accidentally committed suicide; it’s the more distant but still fresh loss of her mother to cancer and the subsequent, if metaphorical, loss of her father to an uptight and horrible stepmother; it’s the tense but close relationship she shares with her sister. It’s mindlessly filling the emptiness with a queue of men and a, shall we say active, graphic and even rugged sex life? Sex queue as coping mechanism, and only through the six episodes do we see exactly how winding, dark and byzantine are the problems she is trying to fuck into oblivion or at least avoid.

Flea photo (c) 2014 Matt Brown.

Lunchtable TV Talk: Sex & the City

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It will sound strange that I am ridiculously embarrassed to admit that I have been binge-watching Sex & the City this week. I readily admit my shamefully frequent hate-watching of shit like Zoo or the relentless and neverending decades-worth of cop and legal procedurals without the kind of shame and self-disappointment I feel at admitting that I’ve succumbed to watching this. I’m watching, and I cannot even call it total drivel – it’s not that bad. But it was so overhyped when it was new that it should/could not have been seriously watched during its heyday. Sure, watching it the way I’ve been watching puts too fine a point on the annoying parts – and they are many. But there are moments, when I set aside the fact that this is a show built around the pathetic idea that successful, independent, sexual, attractive women pretty much let their lives revolve around meeting someone, that elicit some kind of provocation or pique an emotional response. I think SaTC spoke to so many people at the height of its popularity because there are a lot of women in the same situation. Most of us can relate to some part of SaTC, whether it’s the elusive hunt for “the one”, thinking we’ve found “the one” only to be jerked around, or even the sad but seemingly ridiculous storylines like falling in love with the micropenis man, the out-of-control alcoholic, and god knows whatever else. Or a few pearls of Samantha Jones wisdom, i.e. in the new millennium (which was just dawning as this aired), sexual orientation will end up being more fluid and about experience and individuals over gender. We’ll see – but we’ve certainly moved in a more fluid direction in the 16 years since it aired.

As I wrote to a friend: “I am horrified at myself because I ran out of crap tv to have on in the background while I work so I have done something I swore I would never, ever do: I am watching Sex & the City. It is funny though what impressions you get of things while they are happening but you are not really watching. I had very misguided ideas on what happened in the Carrie/Big relationship, for example, based on water-cooler office talk and shit. I had during its original run seen an episode here or there … like one ep from season 1 and one ep from season 4 so it was not like I had any great continuity of plot – even though it is not hard to piece together or guess.” And being who I am (tv addict) I knew a LOT about it without ever watching it, but then actually watching it there are a lot of things I did not know.

The most fun part of the show actually has been realizing how old it is. It started almost 20 goddamn years ago. It featured loads and loads of actors who were nobodies who went on to do other things – people I barely recognized because the first season was from 19-fucking 98! What? The first two seasons included Justin Theroux in two different roles, Timothy Olyphant looking a little creepy (has he maybe had his teeth done since?), fucking Donald Trump, and even Gabriel Macht long, long before his success in Suits. There was even a 30-second scene of a silent Mireille Enos in the episode Valerie Harper was in.

Maybe when the show debuted it felt fresh – it did, after all, help to usher in an era of prestige TV that has led to this flood of vast and quality TV choices. But looking at it today is it provocative, as it clearly was meant to be? No, not so much. In fact, at certain points it feels hateful, full of all kinds of discriminatory BS, privilege and stereotypes. Can I overlook that?

Yeah, because, oh well now that I am watching it it is nowhere near as obnoxious and overblown as it was to me when it was new and everyone was obsessed with watching it. Now that we are awash in a sea of varying quality shows that are still better than network tv, it no longer feels like there is much novelty around something like SaTC.