Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Character-Building Conflict

[I'm going to be introducing some new words. Yes, new words. This includes invented singular pronouns, so instead of using 'they' to describe a single person of either sex, I'll use one of these pronouns. SO: Ze=He or She (subject), Hir= Him or Her (object) and His or Her (possessive determiner), Hirs= His or Her (possessive pronoun). Here's the wiki page.]

The ghost of someone's tragedy
How recklessly my time has been spent
They say that it's never to late but you don't get any younger
Well I better learn how to starve the emptiness and feed the hunger
-Watershed by Indigo Girls

So if you hadn't noticed, I haven't really been writing much except my own weird movie reviews. I think in many ways it has been because I haven't had anything to say. I won't say that I haven't been inspired to write, though I haven't been, because, if fiction writing and poetry writing classes have taught me anything, it's that you'll write very little if you only write when you are "inspired." Sometimes you have to create your own inspiration. But there has been nothing really...interesting? No, that's not it. I got it! It's that there has been so little real conflict in my life. Plenty of angst and pity and bickering and pointless arguing. But no real, for lack of a better term, character-building conflict in my life lately. Which has mostly been my fault. I haven't challenged myself. I let everything go. Let my muscles atrophy, including my brain. Until this week, I really haven't let myself face any challenges, other than the challenge of my vacation, which did teach me a great deal about myself, about the friend I travelled with, and helped me get to a better, more independent frame of mind about traveling. And though my anxiety about the outcome of all this sometimes threaten to overwhelm me, I have more energy and feel happier than I have in a long time.

Up on the watershed, standing at the fork in the road
You can stand there and agonize til your agony's your heaviest load
-Watershed by Indigo Girls

When I decide to do something, I just jump in. (Have you heard/read the story about how I got married?) The hardest part of taking a chance, of trying to do anything, for me, is to get over my fear of failing, especially because my previous failures have set me back behind where I started. Right now, with the employment things I'm trying to do, I don't have to worry so much about failure because I will only end up back in my current situation. I recognize the great privilege I have in that I don't currently worry about having to financially provide for my housing, bills, clothes, or transportation. But I'm also taking some romantic chances and the why's and how's are a bit more complicated and less...positive character traits driven than I think my friends realize, than even I realized or wanted to admit to.

You think I wouldn't have him
Unless I could have him by the balls
You think I just dish it out
You don't think I take it at all
You think I am stronger
You think I walk taller than the rest
You think I'm usually wearing the pants
Just 'cause I rarely wear a dress
Well...when you look at me
You see my purpose, see my pride
You think I just saddle up my anger
And ride and ride and ride
You think I stand so firm
You think I sit so high on my trusty steed
Let me tell you
I'm usually face down on the ground
Whenever there's a stampede
-I'm No Heroine by Ani DiFranco

Last summer, I remember MP and I talking about love and sex advice columns. He and I are big fans of Dan Savage. He said that ultimately most of the situations people wrote in about could be solved if people knew they could be happy on their own. If people knew a happiness in being alone, they could then compare it to what their current relationship gave them and leave if it didn't meet or exceed the happiness they had being alone. Also, if they weren't afraid to be alone, then it wouldn't be fear that made them stay in a relationship, but a real desire to be with that person and make that relationship work. It can also give a person leverage in hir situation because ze can tell hir partner that, if things don't change, ze'll leave and mean it, knowing that ze will be alright if hir partner says "ok, bye."

This really range true to me, both then and now. It is also in line with the Buddhist philosophy of non-attachment, which Wikipedia defines as, "a state in which a person overcomes his or her attachment to desire for things, people or concepts of the world and thus attains a heightened perspective." A quick google led me to this quote, "Without any fear of losing what we have, without being pushed and pulled by our inner likes and dislikes, we begin to find increased equanimity and genuine affection," from Urban Monk.

And, just to clarify, I don't think that MP favors being alone over being in a relationship. In fact, as he's been in relationships the whole time I've known him, sometimes several at the same time, I think he prefers them to being alone, but I think that he's suggesting not being so invested in the idea of being with this one person who is the only one and you just can't be alone and no one will every love you again after this person. I also don't think that it means to walk away from relationships you have invested time and energy in just because at that moment you are unhappy. Even the best relationships have unhappiness. Just that a person should look clearly at the relationship, if ze can still be happy with the problems of the relationship, if those problems can ever be solved, when deciding if ze should stay in a relationship, while leaving out a fear of being alone.

If you're not angry
You're just stupid or you don't care
How else can you react
When you know something's so unfair
The men of the hour can kill half the world in war
Make them slaves to a super power and let them die poor

But his perspective is from his life and comes with a great deal of privilege attached to it.

Let me stop a minute. I'm trying to be more consistent in what I talk about and how, so I'm also trying to introduce the best descriptive terms into what I write and how I talk. So let me introduce PRIVILEGE. Here's what wiki says: "A privilege is a special entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis. It can be revoked in certain circumstances. In modern democratic states, a privilege is conditional and granted only after birth. By contrast, a right is an inherent, irrevocable entitlement held by all citizens or all human beings from the moment of birth." This can come in the form of male privilege, white privilege, temporarily able-bodied privilege, heterosexual privilege, class privilege, and I'm sure there are others that I'm forgetting. But it has to do with getting "an up" in the world, not because you earned it, but because you are white or straight. Part of privilege is that ze doesn't see the advantage ze has. I just wanted to give a quick overview before I talked about it in this context.

Now to go back to MP. His "be happy being alone so you can just leave" comes from a place of class privilege, mixed with a little male privilege and temporarily able bodied privilege. While his life hasn't always been as financially comfortable as it is now, he's had enough money or few enough financial needs that he actually could just leave for much of his post-collegiate adult life. As a heterosexual male, it is statistically far less likely that he'll be a battered partner, not be able to fend off an attacking partner, or be physically prevented by his partner from leaving. Last we talked, he was able-bodied enough to pack up, move, and leave of his own accord, as well as continue to work to support himself. That is a luxury that many people don't have. If I didn't have my family to fall back on financially, I probably wouldn't have that luxury, no matter how happy I was to be alone. I'm not faulting him for this, just pointing it out.

We don't say everything that we could
So we can say later
Well you misunderstood
I hold my cards up close to my chest
I say what I have to and I hold back the rest
-Anticipate by Ani DiFranco

Baby I love you
That's why I'm leaving
There's no talking to you and there's no pleasing you
-Out of Range by Ani DiFranco

Yes, I do have the privilege to end a romantic relationship at any time. I can't in all honesty say that I am happy being alone, well, not exactly. I'm not invested in having a "relationship" in the traditional sense, don't feel I just have to have a boyfriend or girlfriend. I want to have sex consistently. I would prefer that be with one person, a person who I am friends with, can talk with, can have fun outside the bedroom with. If a more traditional relationship develops from that, I'm going to try not to run from that, but I really try not to push it there if the other person isn't there. But I do push for honest, upfrontness (is that a word?), and full disclosure, on where my partner wants things to go, on where ze is now. While I may need to be less interrogative, I don't think it's too much to ask for.

But I realized that I'm terribly lonely when I probably don't need to be. And that I'm lonely not by my choice but by the choice of another that I'm not supposed to question. I also realized that, no matter how much I love someone, if we fight much of the time, having the same arguments over and over again, I am hurting myself when I don't need to. (I also believe I'm hurting him, but it is not for me to decide for him that he should not be with me.) I've spent so much of my life in relationships that I knew would never work, wasted so much time and energy. I don't want to do it again. I want to move forward, to a better place, to be a better person. And I'm so not a good person to him right now. Pretty sure he thinks I'm a pretty shitty person, in fact. And from where he stands, I'm not sure I disagree with him.

But do you ever wonder through and through
Who's that person standing next to you
And after all the night's apart
Is there a home for a travelling heart
But if I weren't leaving you
I don't know what I would do
But the more I go it seems the less I know
Will the fire still burn on my return
Keep the path lit on the only road I know
Honey all I know to do is go
-Leaving by Indigo Girls

Now we get to the part that doesn't reflect so well on me. Tonight, listening to this song, I also realized that there was probably something else. I've always been restless. Hell, the biggest reason I'm seeking employment right now is so I can save money to move later, when my family doesn't need me here, so I see other places as a citizen not a tourist. One of the things I loved about BT was that I felt he understood, and shared, that restless streak, that wanderer's soul. And, as he wanted to go back to general Army, instead of National Guard, I expected that we'd get shipped around, was happy about it. Being with TyRoy, I knew our relationship had an expiration date, when he got a new billet and had to move. Recently, I thought his actions meant he was pulling away, in anticipation of him leaving. Maybe that was just my hope. Unless asked point blank, TyRoy doesn't talk about when he might leave and he never acknowledges how it would change our relationship, which eventually made me worry he was being all ostrich-y about it. But what I realized tonight is that what I subconsciously always found so attractive in these military men is that they either take you with them to some place new or they leave without you and you get to start a new adventure without the stigma of having your relationship having fail. Yep, horrible but true.

So, in summary, I'm feeling great and inspired, introducing new words and concepts to my blog. I'm excited about job hunting, most of the time, though I don't have much risk in it. I am taking a risk in leaving my romantic situation (unless something miraculous happens) because I'm tired of being lonely, ok (if not happier) with being alone (though I might not be that way for long), and because I'm kinda a bitch who feels more comfortable leaving places and people than sticking around. Hmm. That doesn't sound very inspiring, does it? Oh well.

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Ignorant American Watches Some Foreign Films

Waltz with Bashir (2008)
Written & Directed by Ari Folman
Animated (but adult themes, content, and cartoon nudity and sex)
Voiced (sometimes by the real people identified in the movie)
Ron Ben-Yishai as himself
Ari Folman as himself
Yehezkel Lazarov as Carmi Cna'an
Mickey Leon as Boaz Rein-Buskila
Watched July 29, 2010

Gomorrah (2008)
Directed by Matteo Garrone
Cast includes
Gianfelice Imparato as Don Ciro
Salvatore Cantalupo as Pasquale
Salvatore Abruzzese as Toto
Carmine Paternoster as Roberto
Based on a "nonfiction novel" by Roberto Saviano
Watched August 5, 2010

A few weeks ago, when I was bored, I told Red Envelop Movie Rentals to bring up movies for me to review, since I thought I'd probably seen movies that I hadn't reviewed on their site, which helps them recommend movies to you. Well, the site started bringing up movies that they had sent to me and that I'd sent back. And I realized that I had not watched so many of them! (The dvd fairy made me backup copies and sent them back, and the dvds await watching.) I also realized how many of those films were foreign language films. (Stupid American, with no foreign language skills.) There's a reason behind this, though not a particularly good one. See, before I decided to blog all the movies I watched, there were many movies I would watch with only one eye, while I did something else, but paying attention with my ears. That means that I didn't watch very many foreign language films. I have been trying to rectify that.

But sometimes watching a category of film you don't typically watch can highlight areas in which you are not educated. This was definitely the case with both of these films, which is why I'm blogging about them together. While these are both very different films on very different subjects, they both highlighted, for me, my lack of knowledge on political and sociological issues of other countries. (My subsequent cursory self-education, via imdb and wikipedia, highlighted how little free memory I have, but that's another issue.) While I doubt that either of these movies were made with a great deal of thought as to if foreign audiences with my same lack of fore-knowledge would be able to easily understand it, I will be giving some thought to that. This is not to say that I think that foreign filmmakers should always, or ever, make sure that stupid American audiences will easily understand their films, though I do wonder how easy our films are to understand to foreign audiences, which does matter as many of our films, especially big budget action movies, make huge profits overseas. Then again, Hollywood action movies aren't typically made for us to stretch our minds.

I watched the Israeli film Waltz with Bashir first. It is an animated film, but a very adult-oriented animated film, complete with deaths in war, nudity, and even animated sex. But the medium of animation is well-suited to a film about the nature of memory where character recount what they remember about a war that happened over 20 years ago. The film is re-creates filmmaker Ari Folman's journey to either recover his own memories of or to be told what happened around him during the 1982 Lebanon War. He starts this journey after a friend recounts a recurring dream in which his own role in the war haunts him. While Folman tells his friend that he doesn't remember hardly anything about the war, the friend says that it is Folman's duty as a filmmaker to tell this story. That night, Folman has his own dream about the war, just a fragment of a memory, which is the thread that he follows in an attempt to regain knowledge of what he was involved in. Of course, there's a reason that he blocked out all of these memories, as he witnessed and did nothing to stop an atrocity that this war would be known for. For me, this movie was beautiful, imaginative, and moving, though not in a way that leaves on feeling good afterwards. While it did deal with recent Israeli history, which is an area fraught with emotions and opinions and contradictions, I felt that it was much more about the journey of these men, but especially Folman, to regain memory, to acknowledge their role(s) in the war and atrocities of it, and, if possible, process that knowledge. The movie makes no attempt to assert that this war, or any war, is a "good war." The movie also doesn't make an assertions or take positions about Israeli politics. It just focuses on these memories of this small group of men.

Early on, the viewer gets the idea that this movie is about a conflict in which Israeli forces were in Lebanon and that it happened in the 1980s. But there is no overarching exposition. Folman does not in his voice over say, "So I went to see Carmi, who I'd served with in the IDF during the 1982 Lebanon War." When he mentions the Phalanges, he doesn't elaborate on who they are or how they fit into the war, because his movie's target audience is other Israeli's who already know all this history. I think that if you are a viewer who comes to the film just to be "entertained," you might have some issues with this, but I do think that it only takes a bit of viewing (instead of reading) comprehension to put together enough of the pieces for it to make sense. I think that the movie is perfectly enjoyable to someone coming in with very little knowledge of Israel's recent military history, as long as they don't mind thinking just a little bit. In a way, as the movie is about (re)gaining knowledge, it seems appropriate to me to be putting these pieces together while Folman puts together the pieces on screen.

On the other hand, I found putting the pieces together less rewarding as I watched the Italian film Gomorrah, though that might have been a matter of expectations. Gomorrah is a movie about gang life in Naples, which leads one to expect a sort of typical "mafia movie." I've seen it compared to the movie City of God. Ummm, yeah, not really either of those. While it is based on a nonfiction novel which follows several different people who either work for or are somehow involved with the Camorra crime family. The movie follows five of these stories, which don't overlap or interact, which I think most (American) viewers would expect. I did think that the movie presented a gritty criminal underworld well, but it felt without context to me. I'm sure part of that was just my ignorance of the socioeconomic situation of Naples and Italy in general, but the movie does not provide any sort of exposition or context for those not in the know. One of the stories centers on a middle-aged money man, who we see visiting various apartments, giving them money, which most do not seem particularly thankful for. It is never explained WHY he is giving this money to people. (One imbd commentor said it was money paid to those who had lost relatives to death or jail because of their involvement with the crime syndicate, which sounds like as good of an explanation as any.) Towards the end of the movie, a war breaks out between the main crime group and what the subtitles identify as "secessionists." Once again, being lazy, I'll rely on the imdb commentors who said that this is in reference to a real gang war in the 1980s between different alliances or clans within the larger crime family. But I think that a great deal of this movie was lost on me because I don't live with this in my papers everyday. While this movie got quite a bit of critical praise, it just didn't strike me. Maybe I'll get the book, read it, then rewatch the film. Right after I watch all the other films the dvd fairy left me.