31 January 2008

Hello, hello, hello...

It's a weird world, enough so to make me wonder who I would be inviting in if I said yes to one of these "friend requests" from people who don't exist. I have found all the musicians and folks to be good about it. but some other people don't seem to exist, and you get spam requests (from "parties by Kelli" or these ones that have random snapshots of people you just don't know about. looking at their profiles, where they don't put anything in any of the fields: there's just some random photo of a young girl, a random name, and a random location (DANA POINT, California). It doesn't look like there's any there there, know what I mean?

Yet I think it's wonderful that there's a "place" I can "go" where I can say "Spoon and Gomez are my friends, as are Cornershop and eels and some people I met on the message boards."

Soundtrack: Scissor Sisters: "Comfortably Numb" cover

28 January 2008

How she move: Like a baby

I am taking a movement class through our local parks and recreation center. It's Feldenkrais, which as far as I can tell is relearning how to move, based on how we learn to move as babies.

What it reminds me is that I don't have to keep doing things one way. When someone says "Look to your left," I can twist my entire body to help me see, rather than cranking just my neck to one side as far as possible (and usually farther than is comfortable).

There are, as in any endeavor undertaken in this town full of athletes, people in various physical states in the class. I'm restless if I'm not active every day but tend toward lassitude, and I'm probably in the middle of the range: there are true athletes in the class and people who haven't done much exercise for a while. This is not an exercise course, or a stretching course, and it's not a workout, the instructor assured us, and I like that. I find it suggests an absence of competition. In yoga, there's no right or wrong way to do it, but you can see the way that looks like the right way and if you don't quite match the image of Leonardo daVinci's proportions of man figure, all your limbs at perfect angles in relation to one another, you can wind up feeling you're not quite measuring up to that ideal.

If anything the competition in the Feldenkrais class is to see who can discover the most fluid interpretations of the movements and ideas given to us. It's the creative process itself that is rewarded -- and the creative process turns out to be its own reward.

In one of the conversations about skiing, the athlete next to me talked a little about efficiency in movement. And I found myself wondering, is the most efficient motion always the best movement? How would our teacher, who is kind of like a Zen master and likens himself to a guide in his body-awakening work, answer this question?

Frightfully competent

There was a seminar on writing memoirs at the library this past weekend and I kept thinking I would sign up for it. Finally, I tried to call the number they listed to preregister, but got a disconnect message after trying it twice. I went to the library to pick up a book on hold for me there, intending to sign up for the workshop as well, but I only remembered the book. When I looked up the next day, and it was an hour after the writing seminar had ended, I took it as a sign that I must not have needed to go to the class after all. Later, I wrote this:

When I was a kid, I remember my mother whirling around in a rush, sometimes full of good cheer but othertimes a stream of mutterings accompanying the fluster of motion. Sometimes it was as if I wasn't there at all, even when I was the reason for and therefore the cause of all the action and fuss.

It's been brought to my attention that this is something I do. I get upset easily when I'm in this state, my own mutterings streaming forth: "No one else ever does this," or "Good thing I'm here or this would never get done," about whatever task I am engaged in. It's a martyrdom I feel some of that time as my muttering mother and stepmother too must have felt, where we are put upon at having to accommodate a generally oblivious child in every decision, and in my parents' cases, children who bestowed upon them by a smart but slippery guy who wanted to be as free of the care and feeding of the little urchins as possible.

Oddly, this scenario reminds me of my grandparents as well. My mother's mother was so fiercely protective of her time and privacy that as a grandmother she was an exotic myth, more than any parental presence in our lives. Was this a familiar pattern to my mother when she met my father, whose own father and grandfather before him had performed similar vanishing acts in their children's lives?

And how is it, I wonder, that I have found a best friend, who, given some tasks, attacks them as if a judge is standing over her with a stopwatch, trying to determine whether this will be her recordbreaking attempt to do x, y, or z, even if it's a task she's never attempted before?

I was having a similar problem when I was driving: I was constantly reacting to every situation as if someone like my father (drunk and/or angry) was right behind me, urging me to go faster or to get out of the way. Worse, I was treating every other driver as if I were my father. Does my dearest friend have someone like this hounding her when she works?

How do we get these characters to give us a little more time, a little more space? How do we remind ourselves to ask whether our mad mutterings behind the the broom or the wheel of a car are really true, or made-up stories we keep telling ourselves, stories that give us some kind of perverse impetus to get through a task or a moment?

26 January 2008

Brim full of Asha

I just noticed that I'm coming up on what I see as a major midpoint. If you look at it as an up-and-down thing, it is a peak on that graph. Or it's the point after which you've taken from your beginnings and started to make your endings.

I've always had trouble writing endings.

(That is a good first line. Hmmm....)

At the same time, what's coming feels not at all like a peak "and then it's all downhill from there." It feels like a beginning. A leap into what is mine. I've been cutting some of the ties that held me back: ties of family obligation because of who I am and where I come from. But I really do feel like a big balloon slowly being loosed from her tethers and wobbling up and away at last, full of enough of the vaporous heated air to lift a few others with her off the ground.

It's a good feeling, like I have everything with me that I need for the rest of the trip. One of those things turns out to be the faith that when the time comes to land again, we'll be able to find clear ground and helpful hosts, and alight safely together.

25 January 2008

Warning! Contains spoilers!

We have this ongoing conversation in our house. Once in a while our daughter says, "Mommy, what's 'spoiling' a child mean?"

"I don't really know," I say, vaguely, in part because she's at the age where as soon as you describe the behavior, she apes it. "I don't really believe in that." It's now at the level of our ongoing chat about god (right now, she believes in god and Jesus and Santa and the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny and princesses and reincarnation, but she didn't fall for the Valentine Lizard).

Then my mother gave us a lightbulb look and said, "What if you just said yes to your kid every time they asked you for something for a day? What would happen?"

Might have to try that. Because I really don't believe in spoiling in that sense.

23 January 2008

Juno 2.0

I have a great idea for a project:
1. Get together and write a different version of Juno that addresses all the critics' objections.
2. Film it.
3. Watch audiences stay away in droves.

Smushmortion cinema

Sweet! I called Susie Bright out and she totally took it as a compliment. Well, I didn't call her out; I just said the label "sex-positive" was "creepy." (As someone who grew up in the AIDS era, living in the Bay Area in the 1980s and early '90s, I simply find it too semantically close to "HIV-positive," which was actually a big improvement over the grimmer: "I have AIDS.")

And she read my blog yesterday in which I called Diablo Cody "the Susie Bright of the new millennium," which I definitely did mean as a compliment, and she commented on it! Cool. I have had a lot of great times in my life thanks to her.
I went and read Susie's piece she pointed me to on Smushmortion cinema (the word they dare not utter?): about Knocked Up, Juno, and a zillion other teen comedies young women who get pregnant and make the hardest choices of all. (Read the comments -- they are excellent, too.)

Coincidentally, at the same time, I was in the car during part of the Talk of the Nation show on NPR, where abortion was under discussion. There were two calls in succession, one from a woman who was still devastated by her abortion 20-some years later and had never let herself have children because, she told herself, she had "taken a life." This sad soul had never told anyone or gotten herself any help with her feelings about it. Another woman called right after that and said she had been living with her husband in England and together they made the decision to have an abortion because of where they were and what they were doing, and she was wondering if she should have more feelings about it but said she didn't have any shame. It was true. She was Jewish, not Catholic, which also helped, she said. But it was the right thing for her to do at that time.

All this reading and listening brought me to this. If I have one criticism of the ending of Juno it is that there is no complexity in the young woman's response to having given over her desperately sought spawn to that control-freak of a mom. We only see her tiny little figure dramatically restored, trading tender musical phrases with her boyfriend, never even a thought about her newly stretched anatomical features to come between their love. (And was it my imagination or was there also a presumption that as a married lady Jennifer Garner's character wouldn't be keepin' it quite real enough; but making her into a single mom gave her some of the edginess we now require from our heroines, now that we're all over our collective cheerleader lust and have officially gone gaga for goth girls?)

Yet what I also found out is that there are some weird little hooks in Juno for me for precisely the reason I talked about yesterday: there are some surprising little echoes of things that are true in my world.

In Susie's world, apparently, it's highly unlikely you would ever find out that your high-school sweetheart was really your one true love. So far, however, having just celebrated the 28th anniversary of our first date (still can't believe we picked seeing Kramer vs. Kramer, which you could only say scared us straight if you were waaaay oversimplifying things), I can say this is a happy ending that can work and even be realistic.

And in Susie's world, perhaps adoption is a less likely outcome. But get this: between us we have (eerie parallel number two) adopted a child! Yes, we're one of those yuppie families who adopt children, only we went to India instead of through the Penny Saver. We don't live in any mcmansion, either; the only other parallel between us and that freakish couple in Juno is that I try to keep my sweet magenta hardbody electric guitar in tune most of the time, as I still harbor not-so-secret dreams of becoming a rock star (me, for the record: a 45-year-old mom with crow's feet and saddlebags in a suburb of a Western US city).

Other than the things I have mentioned already (support of family & friends), I suppose the similarities to anything I have gone through begin and end there. But I still am willing to give Juno props in part because I was touched by its attempt to compassionately portray all the different sides of the "adoption triad": the relinquishing parent, the child, and the adoptive family. Most stories want to give all the screen time to one of them, but this one really tried to not give anyone the short end of the reality stick, I thought.

Plus, what no one keeps saying about all the wisecracking Juno does is that isn't it a covering of her tracks, the kind of patter that is usually evidence of a intelligent and defensive person at work not saying some of the stuff that's really going on behind the patter and sleight-of-hand? Couldn't there be more going on than meets the ear in this character's inner life?

And I think enough's been said about Knocked Up. I don't need to add to the din on that one; you can probably guess what I have to say. Call me when Judd Apatow learns how to tell a good story, not just a laughable one.

22 January 2008

A flip fairytale? Mais non!

There's a raging discussion regarding a certain Oscar-nominated film (nominees were announced this morning and I'm thrilled to see Diablo Cody was nominated for Juno and I am so happy Jason Reitman was recognized for his direction; incidentally, I'm also delighted to see that the Academy gave a healthy bow to the excellence of Michael Clayton. The discussion is about whether Juno's dialogue is, in one oft-used descriptor, "too cute for its own good," exemplified by exclamations like "Honest to blog!" Amidst all of the verbal tomfoolery, something deep happens in the course of the film, however, and a lot of people seem unable to appreciate both the events and the hilarity that ensues. In my opinion, the uneasiness lies in that cognitive disconnect. During the movie, people laugh. But at the end, something profound has happened, and they look up and say, "Wait! This is too serious an event to enjoy so much. Stop it! We're not supposed to be laughing; we're supposed to be crying!"

I don't know about most of the people who see this movie, but I laugh and cry every damn time. I am tickled halfway to apoplexy by the use of dirty little nuggets like "pork swords." I love the way Ellen Page as Juno sees her best friend flirting with a teacher and smiles at her instead of rolling her eyes. I love the way her family rises to the occasion. I liked how when Juno realizes she's pregnant she immediately faces the decision about what to do next, and everyone follows Juno's lead. She shows great courage in taking full responsibility for something she hadn't thought of beforehand.

I've never been pregnant, but I thought I was for a few days when I was sixteen. Having been born to a sixteen-year-old who withstood lots of pressure to "go to Sweden," code for "have an abortion out of the country and save this family's face," I'd heard what could happen since I was old enough to start asking pretty much any questions. Zap Comix and its ilk followed by the Penthouse and Playboy magazines around in my teens provided the rest of my education (how I anticipated the mail that first Tuesday of the month: I remember the joy at getting to the monthly issue after school before anyone else was home -- I loved the Forum best and recall fondly that brief phase of total innocence when I had no idea 99 percent of those stories were all made up). From about age 11 onward, I knew that the minute I began considering becoming "sexually active," Juno's most-hated phrase, I would be making an appointment at Planned Parenthood, because I wasn't planning on doing what my mother had done. (Perhaps the big surprise for me when I visited the clinic for the first time was seeing that two of the girls I saw every day in my American Studies class had signed in earlier that day.)

A couple of things happened along the way to that first and only pregnancy scare that ensured I would never be the "cautionary whale" Juno finds herself to be. One was that growing up in this time and place for me involved some measure of competition with people who were Going Places. I was not an Ivy Leaguer but many of my peers were, so getting pregnant to me never felt compatible with even my vague and fuzzy future plans. Another was the fact that my mother had gotten pregnant at 16. Yet another was something my parents said to me in the climate of being relatively open about talking about sex. "If you don't feel 100 percent good about sleeping with someone, don't do it. Because you can never undo it." No one was even talking about pregnancy: it was more about my first time, about crossing the border into sexually active territory forever.

That little talk made a huge difference for me, and I turned a few people down along the way who found they had to go somewhere else to relieve their frustrations with me because I wasn't 100 percent up for it. I learned other tricks that helped, but there were a couple of boys who were mighty confused that I thought it made some real difference if they simply switched the outlet they wanted to plug into (whoa there, Pal, that one's grounded!). It felt good to know this about myself and exercise this choice, this right to my own experience. And in retrospect, I deserved that trust that I placed in myself, that my parents placed in me (most of my parents, anyway, most of the time).

So I find I'm a fan of the film Juno not at all because it feels at times like a fairytale of what can happen when the universe rises up to meet you as soon as you take action, or because it's a dreamy look at what can happen when a family trusts and supports their kid in the midst of a life-changing event. I believe it reflects a reality I know, a reality I still believe is possible for my child and for other girls. I like that this character is able to look at the facts of her life and say, "Hold on, I can't have a kid right now," and then do something about it that turns out to be the right thing for a lot of people, including herself. I believe every girl has that girl in her.

One of my favorite exercises in my self-defense class was such a tender and sweet one: we all gave each other -- and ourselves -- the advice we had always wished someone had given us at some critical moment. That's how I feel about this film. Juno stands in my mind for the kind and supportive community we would wish for, were we facing these huge decisions ourselves. It's a kinder, gentler world with this film in it.

And incidentally, I am the first to admit that the film is unrealistic in that no one's flinging "pork swords" or other vulgarities around my house, but I find that I honestly wouldn't mind if they did. I like how Diablo Cody is bringing us all into the here and now with her language; to me she's the Susie Bright of the new millenium, gung-ho about matters carnal without the creepy "sex-positive" label. Who doesn't like to masturbate, after all? What's not to love?