Archive for the ‘Dark Phase’ Category

When the shelter in place orders came down in California, everyone settled in and immediately started looking for a distraction.  Binge watching Netflix was an obvious choice.  So was drinking.  Baking bread became an unexpected trend that had the power to unite  and, in some cases, unhinge people.   But I did not want my time spent sheltering in place to be a wine-fueled, free-for-all of sensationalized docudramas and lurid Netflix originals (because that’s my life when I’m not sheltering in place) – I needed purpose, I needed direction, I needed a quest.  I needed to . . . watch every film ever made featuring Jeremy Irons.

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I realize the title of the piece says “film” and this picture is a promo for a TV show , but I like it for the dramatic effect.

Sure, I could have just looked for sourdough starter and taken to the kitchen like a lot of my Facebook friends, but I failed home-ec and lying on the couch watching movies sounded way more doable.

Just like everyone else at the time,  I was looking for an escape and Jeremy Irons movies seemed like a decent option.  And unlike my second choice, the films of Keanu Reeves,  the films of Jeremy Irons seemed more reputable,  even scholarly in a very loose and possibly inaccurate definition of the word. It’s just something about the richness of his voice, the  intensity of his gaze . . . Perhaps I would find some greater meaning; perhaps I would  synthesize the entirety of Jeremy Irons’ acting career into an amazing thesis about life, cinema, celebrity and the Covid-19 pandemic.

I am better than you

I did have my preconceived notions of what I would be watching.  Dead Ringers,M. Butterfly, The Borgias and Watchmen are my favorite Jeremy Irons vehicles so I expected lots of uneasy narratives full of weirdness and ambiguity;  dark psychological dramas dripping with sexual tension and in some cases, outright sex.  Turns out I had already covered most of this territory.

On the first night of shelter in place I jumped right in with Brideshead Revisited.  I expected to hate it because the Amazon Prime Video synopsis made it sound dry and stuffy.  Instead I was immediately sucked in to the fabulous friendship of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte, a relationship steeped in the excess of the 1920s and yes – dripping with sexual tension.  Although told in flashback from the 1940’s,  parts of it  reminded me a bit of The Great Gatsby (side note: Jeremy Irons plays F. Scott Fitzgerald in a made for TV movie, Last Call) . But as the story moves forward we see Sebastian’s excesses become his downfall. Charles Ryder finds a more suitable love interest in Sebastian’s sister, and then pitches a fit over Catholicism. Laurence Olivier gets some screen time, World War II happens and, after losing the thing that matters most, Charles Ryder decides Catholicism isn’t so bad after all. The end.

That was my viewing during the first week of shelter in place.

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I felt rather accomplished;  with Brideshead Revisited  under my belt and the movies I’d seen prior to taking on my quest I was certain I was already close to reaching my goal.   I decided to officially track my progress.  That’s how The Spreadsheet came to be. Using Jeremy Irons’filmography from IMDB as the source of truth, I imported all his credited roles into my spreadsheet and began to fill out what I had seen.  All told, there were 109 or so entries of which I had seen just a few shy of 30.  Not exactly the count I had expected. Granted, there were a lot of TV episodes early on in his career, and a fair amount of documentary narration which I chose to ignore.  Instead I decided to focus on films and TV movies.

I also decided I needed to categorize certain aspects of each film – really important things like: Are there sex scenes? Does he get naked?  Is he especially nice to look at in this film?  You know,  things that are at the very heart of a good film critique.  A few other categories arose as I continued my viewing : Is he trying to pull off an accent?  Did he do this just for the money?  What the hell were they thinking when they made this thing –  did no one read the script before filming?  Again, very valid criteria to consider for  someone like myself;  I did after all study film for two semesters at a community college back in the 90’s.  I kept changing the categories as I watched, vacillating between serious attempts to analyze his career and ways to keep myself amused.

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Eye Candy

The days went by.   I kept my son on track with his school work.  I checked in with my job.  I made an extra effort in my typical household duties to justify my time spent at home.  When the evening came I would plunk myself down on the couch, spin up the Jeremy Irons search on Amazon Prime and see what was next on my list.

I watched his big Hollywood movies like Man in the Iron Mask (awful) and Die Hard with a Vengeance (Is he trying to pull off an accent?  Check.  But otherwise a lot of fun). I watched small indie films like Better Start Running (surprisingly charming in parts… Jeremy Irons doesn’t quite fit the role of a disabled Vietnam vet from the South, but he committed to the part and made it work).  I watched movies I’d never heard of, like Chinese Box (a love story set in the time of Britain returning Hong Kong to China) and Waterland (an uncomfortable film about a high school history teacher and his wife (played by Jeremy Irons’ real wife) trying to move past old traumas.  Ninety five minutes has never felt so long).  I watched  films that taught me a little bit about history, including Elizabeth I  and The Mission (possibly the best film on the entire list –you really must see this is you haven’t already).  I watched films that introduced me to famous people like artist, Georgia O’Keefe; opera star, Marie Callas;  and Srinivasa Ramanujan, a math genius who was most likely forgotten until The Man Who Knew Infinity came out.

The Mission_

When I got to Lolita I felt too uneducated to properly critique it. Even worse,  I was uncertain if I should check any of the columns on my spreadsheet. It’s based on a famous novel but is it a good adaptation?  Should I like it?  I decided to go to the source material and that’s how I ended up reading Lolita.  For those who may not be familiar, Lolita reads as the confession of  a middle aged man passionately recalling his relationship with a 12 year old girl. ( They bump the girl’s age up to 14 in the movie to make it slightly more palatable.) It’s incredibly well-written; Nabokov’s use of the English language makes me realize I should return  my BA in English and get a refund.  The book feels more satirical than the movie, but Jeremy Irons portrayal of Humbert Humbert feels true to me. Side note- you can download the audio book and have it read to you by Jeremy Irons.

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Sometime after Lolita I watched Dungeons & DragonsDid he do this just for the money?  Check.  What the hell were they thinking when they made this thing?  Check.  This film features Jeremy Irons as an evil wizard or something like that;  he is  acting, with a capital “A”, while wearing a costume most likely purchased from the Spirit Halloween store.  Poor Thora Birch plays the young empress,  think Walmart’s answer to  Queen Amidala, and for whatever reason, she looks as if the make up artist had to  leave for another job right before he got to work on her eyes. This production also managed to drag Richard O’Brien (Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show) and Tom Baker (the best doctor from Dr. Who) into this mess. Definitely the worst film on the list and should be avoided at all costs.

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Avoid at all costs!

How it Ends

When I began my “quest” to watch all the films of Jeremy Irons while sheltering in place I thought it would be a fun diversion to pass the time until life returned to “normal”.  As of this writing, Memorial Day weekend, there are still shelter in place orders in effect for my county, although the guidelines have loosened up a bit.  I don’t know if or when “normal” will return. It seems more likely that someday in the future we will simply be past the pandemic but what life will look like then I cannot say.

As for  my “quest”, I am putting it on pause.  I have not watched all the films ever made featuring Jeremy Irons while sheltering in place, but that’s okay.   I may return to complete the list later on but for now I need a break from Jeremy Irons; his voice has taken over my inner monologue and every now and then it narrates my life like it’s the beginning of a movie . . .  also my bathrobe gives me flashbacks to Dungeons & Dragons.  Like I said, I need a break. I need to go outside and get some fresh air.  Our local park is open again.

I’ll leave you with two things: First,  this link to  a letter penned by French physicist and philosopher, Aurélien Barrau, and actor, Juliette Binoche (who co-starred with Jeremy Irons in Damage – a movie I watched before the “quest” but definitely allowed me to check some columns on the spreadsheet).  Signed by 200 celebrities and scientists, including Jeremy Irons,  the letter requests the world not return to the pre-pandemic normal. “The pursuit of consumerism and an obsession with productivity have led us to deny the value of life itself: that of plants, that of animals, and that of a great number of human beings.”   It is definitely food for thought.

Finally, just because ultimately my “quest” turned out to be an exercise in data collection, I present this (not exhaustive) list of the movies I’ve watched and haven’t watched, categorized by genre.  Also, feel free to check out the spreadsheet.  It’s open to comments if you’re so inclined.

Histories/Based on true events/real people

The Borgias

Elizabeth I

The Mission

Georgia O’Keefe

Marie Callas

Man Who Knew Infinity

Reversal of Fortune

Last Call

Comic Books and Video Games

Assassin’s Creed

Justice League/Batman

Watchmen

Fantasy

Dungeons and Dragons

The Color of Magic

Eragon

Based on a Novel

Lolita

Waterland

Beautiful Creatures

The Dream

Brideshead Revisited

Night Train to Lisbon

The French Lieutenant’s Woman

The Color of Magic

Eragon

The Good

Dead Ringers

M. Butterfly

Brideshead Revisited

The Borgias

The Lion King

The Mission

The Bad

High Rise

An Actor Prepares

Damage

Dungeons and Dragons

It’s a Movie

Inland Empire

Better Start Running

And Now Ladies and Gentlemen

Margin Call

Chinese Box

Kafka

The Unavailable

Swann in Love

Australia

Danny Champion of the World

Still on the list to see

Stealing Beauty

Moonlighting

The Fourth Angel

Longitude

The House of the Spirits

The Time Machine

Heaven and Earth

Race

Appaloosa

Pink Panther 2

 

My  shelter in place breakdown has become an existential crisis.  I’ve been creative and producing and releasing and it’s like screaming into the void.  If I make art and no one is there to receive it, is it art?  Actually, if I make art and there are people there to receive it, the question will resound even greater – is it art?

So, it is in this state of mind that I bring you my latest concept, inspired by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

The 9 Levels of Artistic Success (as conceived by someone who never made it past level 3)

(ps. The art I’m referring to refers to a number of disciplines including music, visual arts, writing, etc. so don’t feel excluded.  We can all fail together.)

9 levels of artistic success

Level 1  – Polite encouragement from friends and family: Your initial attempts aren’t groundbreaking or breathtaking, but you might get better . . .  so friends and family may encourage you with delicately fashioned compliments like: “Wow, you’re so creative!”  and  “I like this one better than your last one.”

Level 2 – Absolute silence and avoidance from everyone:  You haven’t gotten better and you haven’t stopped.  Hopefully you’ll figure it out soon but until then friends and family will give polite acknowledgement only under pressure and total strangers will put you on ignore.

Level 3 – Light derision from fellow artists of similar talent or position:  They’ve gone through levels one and two as well and who do you think you are?  Maybe you keep bumping into each other on the same bill or have mutual friends, but they want you to know they admire your tenacity but they’d be lying if they said they’re into what you do.

Level 4 – Casual encouragement from lower level achievers with slightly more success than you and nothing to lose by encouraging you:   They’re not much further up the ladder than you, but it’s a big step – like going from elementary school to middle school.  Maybe they’re genuinely like what you’re doing or maybe it’s a sympathy nod – but they make an effort of encouragement and it means something.

Level 5 – Emphatic praise from people with less success than you hoping to receive similar encouragement from the lower level achievers:  It’s called networking.

Level 6 – Acknowledgement from higher level achievers based on the emphatic praise from the people with less success: They’ve heard of you, they think . . . they’re pretty sure they’ve heard of you.  Cool.

Level 7 – Positive interest from a general audience (not artists) based on the acknowledgement from a higher level achiever:  If those really cool people have heard of you, you must be worthwhile! (Things can go terribly wrong here.  You actually have to have a little something going on at this point otherwise, return to Level 3 and regroup).

Level 8 – Acclaim based on the positive interest from the general audience:  Cool people have heard of you, regular people have heard of you – it may take a little while for people to like what you do, but it’s supposed to be good and people will look for the good in something that is supposed to be good.

Level 9  -Wide spread derision as a backlash to acclaim:  Who the hell do you think you are?  Why are people even giving you any attention?  Lots of people can do what you do and do it better.  Congratulations – you suck!

So there you have it, my take on artistic success in 9 levels.  Am I on to something? Let me know.

And check out my latest Soundcloud track : Undivided Attention   Don’t let me languish at level 2!

Clearly this is going to be a sad story, and I hope it will quickly become a period piece of “how things were” during the pandemic of 2020.  But right now it’s just a bit of catharsis.

It was the week before California’s shelter in place order and my cat was dying.

In truth,  my cat had been dying for much longer than that.  She had turned 14 in July of 2019 and in that same month she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma of the intestinal tract.  The veterinarian oncologist explained, during a very expensive consultation, that this was not a cancer from which cats recover.  Chemotherapy was an option and it could extend her life up to a year, but eventually it would lose effectiveness and I, as her owner, should take that time to get used to the idea of losing her.

My cat hated car rides, she hated vet techs, and she hated veterinarians (my cat had actually acquired a long list of things and people she hated throughout her life, so she wasn’t specifically targeting care providers).  With all this in mind, I couldn’t imagine putting her through the stress and discomfort the chemo treatments would bring so I opted for palliative care.  In that case, the vet told me, four to six weeks was the best I could hope for.

I took my cat home, cancelled an upcoming vacation with my family and waited.

I feel I should tell you more about the cat now.  She came into my life on Saturday,  September 10th  2005 at the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA.  She and her litter mates were just old enough to be adopted and she was the last kitten spoken for.  When the adoption counselor brought her to us in to the “meet and greet” room she looked around nervously and then made a beeline for my lap, quickly tucking herself inside my jean jacket.  And that was it –  I was hers.  My son, 5 years old at the time, named her Furokey or Farokey (the correct spelling was not decided upon).

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Furokey/Farokey as a kitten

And so Furokey/Farokey,  lived with us and grew up to be what a friend of the family affectionately called “a spiky ball of hate”.   We added more cats to the household and Furokey kept them in line, letting them know who was really in charge.  She demanded attention, she demanded food, she kept the refrigerator door free of magnets  below the  3 foot mark.  In short, she was a cat – a very good cat.  A cat with a strong sense of self.

And there in her illness, that same force of will that had given her the reputation of being a cat you should not make eye contact with, kept her alive much longer than 6 weeks.  Summer passed and she was still with us.  When Thanksgiving rolled around I fretted about taking our annual family trip to Arizona but ultimately left detailed instructions on how to handle the body in the event of her death.  When it was time for our Christmas trip to the east coast, I quietly made room in the freezer for her body just in case the pet sitter found her on Christmas day and could not take her to veterinarian’s for cremation right away.  And then it was the new year and there she was, still demanding food, still demanding attention, but no longer using the litter box consistently.  I papered the laundry room with puppy training pads.

In February I took her to our local vet (not the oncologist) to make sure I was doing everything I could for her.  The vet was amazed she was still hanging in there and offered a course of vitamins and steroids to perhaps ease some of her symptoms.  I asked her if she thought Furokey was in pain, and the vet said probably not, she probably felt hungry and tired most of the time and maybe a little nauseous.

The week of March 9th I had a headache and tightness in my chest.  The headache would not go away.  Pain medication made it slightly better, but it was there when I went to bed and it was there when I woke up and sometimes it woke me up during the night.  I definitely had a headache.  The tightness in my chest I was less sure of. It felt like pressure, but it wasn’t causing a cough or shortness of breath.  By this time in the timeline of world news and COVID-19,  the headlines were almost exclusively virus related and I considered the possibility my chest pain might be psychosomatic.

I work as an aide in an elementary school and most of that week was spent in the copy room making thick packets of worksheets to send home with the kids in case the school closed.  Knowing how important it was to be prepared for a closure, I continued to go to work even though I felt lousy.  On Saturday morning, March 14,  I took my temperature and it was 100.  Now I felt worried and also irresponsible.  What if I somehow did have the virus and I had just exposed the 48 kids I work with?  I could barely entertain the possibility.

The next day, Sunday,  I noticed Furokey’s condition had changed.  She held her body differently, she couldn’t get comfortable anywhere, and the tone of her meow had changed; it was higher pitched and more distressed.  It suddenly occurred to me that it was time to say good bye.

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One of my final pictures of Furokey

Because she hated the vet so much I had already decided I was going to contact a service that makes house calls.  I wanted her to pass peacefully on my lap in the living room. I called the service but didn’t have the heart to make the appointment for that day, instead I made it for Tuesday, March 17th.  I also harbored the secret fear that I might be contagious, although I did note my symptoms weren’t getting worse, they remained about the same with the headache, low grade fever,  random chest pressure and low energy.

On Monday I called my healthcare provider.  My doctor was out of town until mid-April, but after navigating through the call center, I was given an appointment at a respiratory clinic in a nearby town for that afternoon.  I was going to get tested for COVID – 19 and then I would know for certain.  That alone felt like a relief.

The respiratory clinic was set up in a parking garage and I never left my car.  After parking in a waiting area I was directed to park in an examination bay where a fully protected doctor examined me through the open car window.  She told me my symptoms did not sound like the virus, but she understood I wanted to know based on the number of students I worked with during the week.  She agreed to test me.  After shoving a swab way up my nose a (which turned the pain volume up on my headache from a 6 to a 10), she told me my family and I should stay completely quarantined until the results came back in 3 to 5 days.

That very same day, Monday, March 16th, the county I live in issued a shelter in place order for all non-essential personnel.  The state of California would reinforce this with a state wide order on Thursday, March 19th.

I went home and called the euthanasia service and cancelled Furokey’s appointment. It felt good – like I was somehow cancelling her illness and death as well.  All there was left to do was wait for the test results.

My plan had been to notify the school district in the event of my test being positive so the students’ families could be contacted and make informed choices.  During the first week of sheltering in place not everyone stayed inside.  I knew from local reports that people were still going to the beach, going to parks and playgrounds, going shopping.  I thought about how many people could be infected if just a quarter of the kids I worked with were out there in public spaces.  The potential number of cases caused by me could be considerable, but I couldn’t dwell on it just yet. I was grateful I’d had the opportunity to be tested.  I heard from several people in my social media circle that they were being denied testing despite having more severe symptoms than mine.

As the week wore on I began feeling better but Furokey was obviously getting worse.  Every day I obsessively checked my e-mail for for test results.  Until then I could neither make arrangements to end her suffering or make peace with the idea she would die a natural death.  I thought a lot about how and why we choose euthanasia for our pets, often long before they come to the critical part of an illness.  In some ways it seems like convenience, because death, like birth, makes us wait; it is a hands-off process that requires us to be present and patient and recognize we have no control.

But it wasn’t just for convenience’s sake; Furokey was struggling with her daily routine and she had no understanding why – why she could no longer jump up to the sink to drink from the faucet even though she continued to try, why she felt so tired she had to lay down on the stairs on her way to the litter box.  She really had no understanding;  she was confused and bewildered by her diminished abilities and it was heartbreaking.

That Saturday evening, now 5 days after my test, I still had no results but my symptoms were gone.  I went down stairs to the laundry room to find Furokey sprawled out on the clean, white puppy pads spread across the area like a pristine carpet.  I winced, but secretly hoped it had happened.  It had not. She was hanging in there.

I carried her upstairs and made an area for her in the hallway outside my bedroom and the bathroom – litter box and puppy pads in the bathroom, water dish, kitty bed.  I didn’t want her to have to move around too much.  Once placed in the area she stood up in her kitty bed and peed.  It occurred to me she was disoriented and may have mistaken the bed for a litter box.  Then she wandered into my son’s room and laid down in a way that suggested she would not get back up again.  Our other two cats came and sat in the hall and just watched her for a long time.  It felt like a good bye.

But it was not a good bye. Around midnight she got up again and was very thirsty and still very confused.  She made it out to the kitchen and meowed for food.  After eating she relieved herself in the corner.  I placed puppy pads everywhere. I didn’t sleep much either, worried she might try to go back downstairs, fall and injure herself.

Finally, on Sunday I got the call – my test was negative!  If I needed groceries I could go out and get them.  We could have pizza delivered.  And I did not have to contact the school district to inform families!  With the amount of time lapsed between testing and results I felt the information was not as pertinent as it could have been anyway.

Most importantly, I could help Furokey pass peacefully and quickly.

But I couldn’t call that day. I just couldn’t. I was so happy with the negative test results I just wanted a moment to pretend everything was going to go back to normal.

The next morning I called the euthanasia service and they sent their vet over in the early afternoon.  I sat with Furokey until the time came.  She mostly slept now.  The vet arrived in full protective gear; she apologized for her appearance.  We told her we were grateful she was willing to make the trip.

Furokey passed peacefully in the living room surrounded by her human family, including the boy, now 20, who had named her.  As we prepared a grave for her in the backyard it was decided her name was officially spelled F-u-r-o-k-e-y.

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Last week I logged in to Facebook and was instantly clobbered with some information that in all honesty means nothing to me. It has zero impact on my relationship with my husband, my relationship with my children, my job, my education, or my health; it has absolutely no bearing on anything important in my life. And yet it hit me. It hit me so hard that I bled out this song in 20 minutes.

I have to be honest, it’s been a long time since I just kind of zinged out a song at that speed. Part of the expedited songwriting process involved ignoring my inner critic who kept telling me it was derivative and melodramatic. Instead, I wanted to see if I could write with the same urgency I had when I was young . I also wanted to express the feelings you get when something you were certain you had gotten over swiftly proves you wrong.

Ultimately the song is a bit melodramatic and most likely comes from the place of a bruised ego – thus the strong emotions – but I’m grateful I was able to sit with my feelings and express them rather than keep them tamped down. I think we tend to do that as we get older and it feels much better to just get it out there. Is it an earth shattering work illuminating the human condition? Nah – not really, but it’s how I felt at the moment. I’m gonna go with that.

Also, I want to add that even though the vocal performance is not stellar (I have never liked my voice and life experience has shown me I’m not alone in that) I’m very grateful to be taking voice lessons again. This time I’m approaching my voice as an instrument, learning about it, putting in some work and practice. I can already hear and feel the benefits. The greatest benefit for me at the moment is not feeling pain and tension in my throat when I sing.

Even though I’m not sure how much of a future this song has in my repertoire, I’m still happy to have taken the time to write and perform it. And if you’ve ever had that moment when an old wound opens up unexpectedly and you recognize that it still hurts, this is for you.

Still Hurts

It was something not meant to be
Didn’t work out, at least not for me
And in the thick of it I tore myself apart
Thought I could make it mine with only my will
It pushed back hard, I’ve got the bruises still
And all the while I swore I was following my heart

And I’m better now
I don’t know how
Cause it chewed me up and spit me out
I landed hard but I made it through the worst
And I’m stronger now
I don’t know how
It politely ripped my insides out
I’m passed that all
Just now and then it still really hurts

If you work hard and you truly believe
There is nothing you can’t achieve
That’s what I heard, guess I heard it wrong
And it’s still there so big and so bright
I will never know what it’s really like
So I find my own path and move along

And I’m better now
I don’t know how
Cause it chewed me up and spit me out
I landed hard but I made it through the worst
And I’m stronger now
I don’t know how
It politely ripped my insides out
I’m passed that all
Just now and then it still really hurts

copyright 2020 P. Sutor

body

(a memorial of sorts)

Bring the body down
Bring the body down
Science demands a last exam
The eyes, the hair, the face
This alien DNA never seen before
And never seen again
Bring the body

Bring the body down
Bring the body down
The subjects request a final performance
Look to the stars above
This vessel once filled with light and love
now cracked and spilled and pouring out
in a beautiful flood

The time at hand, the preparations
The coffin built to specification
Periodically blooms in transformation
Light the fires, begin the devotions
This thing once boldly set in to motion
It will not end, it will not end

Bring the body down
I can see through this disguise
Your facets and graces still intact
Here beneath the death mask
Shimmering layers peeling back
Reveal
Who are you now?

And you were never more than this to me
(bring the body)
And you were never more than this to me
(bring the body)
And you were ever more than this to me
(bring the body)
And you were ever more than this to me

IMG_4100A clear night

But street lights outshine the stars up there.

And who knew Venus has phases

Just like the moon?

The boy asleep on the backseat,

I close the car door quietly.

We’re coming home without you.

The work week

And trash night,

I think about all the fights

We’ve ever had-

“Who’s in charge here, me or you?”

But for once we just might agree

It’s not your or me.

Not when we’re coming home without you.

What a mess we must look like

From the outside.

You show up larger than life

And me, always trying to hide.

But I could bring you to your knees

And you wouldn’t resist,

Or so I’d like to believe.

That’s when it feels dangerous.

Makes me think I should leave.

But I’m never sure when to run.

And tonight there’s no one here to run from.

A clear night

But street lights outshine the stars up there.

And who knew Venus has phases

Just like the moon?

We do

Because we’ve been through

So many phases

Still I never thought I’d be

Coming home without you

~Paula Sutor, 2005

There’s a stereotype that us creative-types have monstrous egos that can crumble to dust if the right pebble hits a certain spot of weakness. This may be true. I confess that a large part of my 20’s and 30’s were spent learning the lesson of humility over and over again. Every time I would manage to climb atop the slightest elevation, proclaiming myself King of the Mountain, the Universe would thwack me on the head, point to a higher peak and yell, “The mountain’s over there, dummy!” before gingerly pushing me aside, causing me to tumble the scant few feet I had scaled.   Back to the drawing board.

I often take pleasure in recounting my failures –but the latest is a bit more painful.   Several months ago I stumbled across someone with a great deal of talent who was not attached to an active situation.  My current project had a sturdy framework, but we needed something to dress it up.   This person seemed to be a perfect fit.  I reached out to her and she was interested in working with us. At the first meeting I still very much loved what she could do, but I felt uneasy with the personal interaction. Still, I’m the first to admit my lack of social skills and decided to shrug it off. My partner seemed taken with her.

We pressed on.   In just a few more sessions I  got a sense that she did not see me as an equal. She was the talent, I was the support – and this was actually the case for our intended audience, but I found myself having a hard time working within the dynamic. I saw myself as an integral part of the equation, why couldn’t she see it?   I subconsciously began looking for chinks in her armor. Certainly she had deficits – rather glaring deficits that began to give my partner pause, particularly when we brought them to her attention in a kind manner, and she claimed no knowledge of what she had or had not done.   The saving grace of the situation remained that when everything aligned it was amazing – mostly because of her.

After we achieved something of a milestone, I began to spiral off into a cycle of extreme jealousy followed by extreme guilt. Was I really so insecure? I had successfully worked with other talented people, but in all of those situations the hierarchy had been clear – it was their project and I was the support person. Additionally, they repeatedly expressed gratitude for my contribution, no matter how slight. It did not occur to me that it wasn’t her job to make me feel appreciated in my own project.  The one expressing gratitude for the hard work should have been me. I’m not sure that would have made the balance of power manageable, but it’s what should have happened. My partner had already made this move and she was treating him with a great deal of respect. The one thing she was not doing was addressing the problems she was having – problems we wanted to work with her to solve.

I moved into a full-blown obsession. I talked about it to everyone and anyone who would listen – my husband, my friends, my partner, my therapist.   I examined and re-examined my motives: my jealousy, my need for control, my need to feel acknowledged. I hated my needs. I began to actively hate her as well. After every meeting I would play back our interactions in my head and re-interpret all her words to mean only the worst. In truth, some of the things she said did have questionable intent. I told myself I was wasting too much energy on this and I would try to quiet myself. Then it was time for another meeting and it would all start up again.

My partner and I continued having difficulty getting her to work on the areas we felt were weak. We would tag team each other with our grievances. At times there seemed to be dissent from all parties. The process of working together was exhausting. The joy was draining out of us.

I hit bottom after we reached another milestone. I just wanted out. “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven,” I reminded myself with a ridiculous amount of self-pity and melodrama. I told my partner I was bowing out – not just from this project but any and all work of this nature. Enough of the Universe thwacking me on the head and yelling “The mountain’s over there, dummy!”   My revelation did not seem so obvious to my partner. He begged me to reconsider. He suggested we either cut her lose or have a serious talk with her.

I fantasized about texting the break up:

Dear You,

You are the perfect dress that only comes in the wrong size. I wish you well and far away.

~Me

At that point I had to recognize my needs and my limits. I really wanted to be a bigger person with a smaller ego. I wanted to be okay with being in a situation where I felt bad all the time. I’ve often mistaken denying my emotional needs as a sign of strength, but in truth it’s detrimental.  Constantly depriving yourself of the very thing that sustains you will only stunt your growth – creatively, emotionally. There was no way I was ever going to fit into that perfect dress, which made it – not perfect.

We had our talk. It was illuminating and honest. She thought we wanted to work with her to showcase her talent – and so she wanted every aspect of the project to showcase her talent. In her mind it only made sense. She’s good. Why would we want her to do things that didn’t feature her at her best? We explained that we were also part of the project – our talent and work needed to be honored as well. We wanted it to show the group effort involved, not just what she could do.

Why had we not had this conversation sooner?

In the end we agreed to take a break from each other, not totally closing off the possibility of working together somewhere down the line now that we knew where everyone was coming from. I felt relieved, but also sad. If only we’d had better communication perhaps together we could have made it closer to that mountain … wearing the perfect dress.

the-adventures-of-priscilla-queen-of-the-desert-climb2

Mother

Posted: November 20, 2014 in Dark Phase, Dreams, motherhood
Tags: , , , ,

mom-and-meMother

Mad woman rattling pots and pans in the kitchen at midnight

Hanging wash in the basement at 3 AM

Conversing loudly with the dead

An anxious litany

“You know what they’ll do? Do you know what they’ll do? They’ll come take the house.”

With Daddy gone

The only thing left to lose

“Don’t run the water like that”

“Close the door”

“Don’t you touch the thermostat”

“Do you know what they’ll do if I can’t pay the bills? Do you know what they’ll do?”

“They’ll come take the house.”

That fear

That fear seeped out of the foundation like rain water

Bubbled up from the basement drain with the raw sewage

Forced you to put a lock on the cellar door

But the lock never contained it

That fear sat with me at the kitchen table

Eating boiled meats, mashed potatoes and canned peas

While you stood with your back to us

Eating over the sink

That fear hid in the corner of the living room

Behind Daddy’s empty chair

When we stayed up late watching horror movies

“Spooky,” you said. “Time for bed”

And that fear trailed me all the way down the hall

Lurked, creaking the floor boards just beyond the night light’s glow

While you muttered obscenities in the bathroom.

I left as soon as I could.

You remained vigilant.

I came home years later

To find you asleep in your chair

Amidst bags of dirty dishes

And stacks of magazine

“She needs better care,” the doctor said.

And we shuffled you on

Your belongings falling away

Your life made smaller and smaller

To accommodate each new convalescing room.

 

I sold the house.

 

To pay your way

To keep you with me

Just a little while longer.

 

In my dreams

We are together in the house.

You, me and that fear

“I can’t stay” you tell me

“It’s not safe.”

The locks gone from the doors

The furniture sits in the yard

They have come

To take the house

Even then I cannot contain

The guilt, the shame and

The small victory

That “they”

Would be me

After all.

I have never been good at counting my blessings; I’m far too negative for that. Those chipper, upbeat people on my Facebook feed (how did I even get these friends?) are constantly posting positive, life-affirming sayings, and it takes a great deal of will power on my part to not refute each and every one as oversimplifying, sugar coating or self-aggrandizing the true nature of our existence. Luckily I was taught not to say anything if I have nothing nice to say and so I remain, to most people, very quiet.

However, I sometimes feel the need to take a life inventory of sorts, just to remind myself how none of this makes any sense, but here I am and no matter what, it could always be worse.

Here then, in my most positively pessimistic perspective, is my list of miseries and how it could be worse:

1.) I make music that absolutely no one wants to hear. It’s my passion, my heart and soul, but apparently my heart and soul is lacking, boring, potentially dated and out of tune (do not tell me it’s because I’m a downer , not while The Cure and Morrissey are still touring).

It could be worse. I could be loaded with talent and still just as obscure and nowhere, like many of my truly gifted friends.

2.) My house is an absolute pig-sty having just spent the last week and a half enjoying a visit from a friend and her children and making little effort to contain the chaos.

It could be worse. I could have high expectations of my housekeeping abilities and spend the next week stressed out while working towards a presentable home. Instead I will take this opportunity to continue to enjoy the summer and host many more social engagements, knowing I won’t have to clean up much afterwards to maintain status quo. All the while I will not worry that my friends are secretly judging my messy home and deciding my best efforts are not good enough; I made no effort. Perfect!

There is the added bonus of boosting my friends’ confidence in their own housekeeping standards. Once they leave my place they will have a bright new perspective on how nice their homes truly are. I am a good friend!

3.) I’m turning 46 in a few weeks. How did that even happen? I was 27 just a minute ago and now here I am starting the 4 year countdown to 50. What have I even done with my life? Do I really need to go any further with the physical aging process? Because I know how it ends and I don’t like it. And . . .and . . .reading glasses!

 It could be worse. I could still be living with the youthful optimism that it will all work out without any effort on my part. That was a big lesson I learned only in the past 6 or 7 years: if there is such a thing as fate, you have to get her number and harass her regularly to get her to work for you. Or you can just do the work yourself (easier).

 Also gone is the underlying anxiety of where my life might take me because I finally know:  it’s taken me right here, a messy home with a couple of kids who, I hope, are enjoying summer break with their mom, a woman who isn’t stressing over things that don’t matter that much.

 Without being too optimistic, I’d like to say I am okay with where I am right now (although being at Comic Con this weekend would be good too).  There’s still some road ahead with potential twists and turns, but I think I’m better at navigating it than I was in my youth. Or not.

I certainly don’t see myself embracing the bright side of things anytime soon, so I’ll stick with counting my miseries and my life long philosophy. . .Could have been worse

I’ve been meaning to write.

I’ve been meaning to write about pain and loss and grief and the importance of finding small joys.  I’ve been meaning to write about uncertainty and inevitability, the uncomfortable position of navigating a friend’s mourning process in hopes of offering solace and support, and the even more difficult conversations you have with people for whom hope is not an option, but neither is defeat.

I’ve been meaning to write about my own anxiety and the endless one-note symphony of my creative failure.   I’ve been meaning to write about the hard, dull thud in one’s soul when, just for a moment, you catch of glimpse of your place in the universe.   I’ve been meaning to write about fear – fear of having traveled the wrong path for too long, the fear of aging and the unspoken powers of youth.    I’ve been meaning to write about the inequities of physical beauty, and raw, tangible talent versus much-practiced, lesser abilities.

But when I sit down to arrange any of this in a reasonable, logical fashion I get stuck on how unreasonable and illogical it all is.  And I feel helpless.  I cannot give myself the attributes I do not possess and I cannot change the circumstances of those I see around me.   And really, they aren’t in the same realm are they?  Absolute loss and misguided expectations are two different aspects of the hard parts of life.

And so I haven’t written at all because I don’t know what to say.

I tell myself to keep seeking out the small joys – dancing in the living room with my kids, singing in the car, enjoying that first cup of coffee in the morning.  I tell myself that as long as I’m alive and healthy with a roof over my head I can still work out the feelings of inadequacy and failure.  I tell myself that the time to save face and hold back is over.  There’s nothing to save; let people look and laugh or look and admire or ignore it all.  But there really is nothing to be saved for later.

Give it all now.  Give it all you’ve got.

small joys