Saw this on twitter; a reminder that this season is hard for so many:
And here are some articles for those who do find themselves alone during the holidays. VOLUNTEERING is a suggestion that comes up in many of these kinds of advice articles, and it is a great suggestion in general for those who feel disconnected in some way; even if you are not physically alone.
So I mentioned in a previous post that I recently came across and have been watching episodes of The Grapevine, a panel style discussion show bringing together young Black-identified game changers, artists, cultural innovators, and professionals to dissect topics being talked about in culture, mass media.
At one point in the all women episode ‘Love, Sex & Relationships’, host and show creator Ashley Akunna asks: “What is something you would teach your future daughters about dating?”
Uchechi Chinyere (pictured above, wearing a great t-shirt I own) gave the following sage advice:
“Be yourself completely. As everybody knows, I’m a Pro-Black Feminist. I had a relationship where I made myself smaller because that was the type of woman that he wanted. Not only did I end up emotionally destroying myself, he married somebody else. But now I am so much happier, being myself. And I’m with somebody that is perfectly okay with who I am. And it’s not that he agrees with everything I do, but he absolutely loves who I am, accepts me completely. And it was because I was completely myself. And I learned how to be myself, and be okay with it, and not be afraid that I’m going to lose out on men because I am who I am. And that’s something I have to make sure I teach my daughters, ‘don’t allow society to tell you that you have to lessen yourself and make yourself smaller in order to attract a man, because that man is not for you’.”
Below is a re-post of a piece I published in 2010. I was reminded of its existence whilst reading through a spreadsheet listing all 304 posts I have ever published here.
I then re-read some of my earliest ones; some of them truly feel like my past self was communicating (quite specifically) with my present self, regarding what present self needs to be mindful of at this point in my life.
This, my 38th post, is one of them. A lot of what I wrote in it, is far more applicable to my private emotional life today than it was back then.
When you have been through the emotional ringer so many times, it is easy to become closed up. I’m so in awe of friends who charge heart first into relationships and friendships, over and over again. No matter how many times they fall off a horse, they get right back on it! I don’t know whether this is an admirable feat, or the definition of insanity – after all, the oft quoted and misattributed definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”. Perhaps the re-mounting of the horse is only insane if you get back on the same horse? Alas, I do not know.
What I do know is that I don’t think I’m in danger of closing up anymore. From an early age, I struggled with the reality that it is a fundamental part of my constitution to feel the undercurrents of everyone around me. This predicament, a gift and a curse, can be exhausting, and has caused me much grief in the past. So, a number of years ago, as many people do, I found it necessary to try and find some balance between that natural state of being, and detachment. But, like a lot of people, I confused detachment with closing my heart, in order to protect it (or so I thought). It’s a common mistake, one that occurred because of my motivation at the time. A motivation that trips up people all over the world: the motivation to not be fucked around or hurt by others again. Self-preservation.
Essentially, I was motivated by fear.
Nowadays, the fear is gone, and my desire to cultivate a level of detachment is motivated by something else. It is motivated by a desire for healthy, balanced, higher relationships. Relationships and friendships without the psychotic intensity that left me so battered in previous relationships and friendships, as I subjugated myself to the other. Relationships with honesty, space and respect, that allow both parties to be who they are… freely.
So, I’m practicing (or rather, learning to practice, imperfect student I am) loving-detachment in all my relationships. Some might say this is an oxymoron, but this perception is due to a misunderstanding of what love actually is. Love is not attachment, and real love is not conditional. Moreover, attachment implies conditions attached.
Detachment to me is thus about acceptance of all other people as equals and individuals, responsible for themselves. It’s about being responsible for the way you feel but, also, being honest about the way you feel. And it’s about allowing people to be who they are without judgement, and supporting the best in them. And, of course, it’s about love – unconditional love. And taking care of yourself.
My big problem has always been losing myself in a relationship. So I am still trying to learn that “taking care of yourself” part… and have resolved to be single, build my life and enjoy my friendships until I’ve mastered that – not just for my own benefit, but for the benefit of my future partner. But I am getting better at the “unconditional love” part.
Below is an excerpt from the Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. If someone narcs on me I’ll take it down 😛 But I’m posting it here because it encapsulates the point I am feebly trying to make (because the words just aren’t flowing today… one of those terribly unproductive days).
And that point is this: don’t fear the pain. Love requires vulnerability. That means it hurts, sometimes. But when you love unconditionally, you can afford to love wastefully. Because the strange and steadfast paradox is that holding fast to and choosing love, every time, without conditions, protects you from everything.
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I almost never read articles about dating as I don’t find them particular helpful, interesting or applicable to my own life. So many articles on dating discuss trends in online dating I have zero interest in, or discuss the “science” of game – offering grotesque or just plain dodgy advice on how to up your chances of landing a mate or securing a shag (and these aren’t just articles targeting men). No relationship I have ever embarked upon has ever started with “game”, or even effort, so those discussions repel me. The cynicism of it all… repels me.
But THIS article is actually pretty damn amazing.
Now 57, Anne Thomas was 18 when she became paralysed from the chest down – in the midst of an era of eugenics and widespread human rights abuses of disabled people. In this deeply honest piece, she discusses her experience of navigating her sexual and romantic life – and life in general – in the face of a fairly fucked up world that discouraged (and in many ways, continues to discourage) her from acknowledging or satiating a fundamental part of her humanity – the need for intimacy.
This article is an educational read for non-disabled people who want to enlighten themselves about diverse experiences.
Though Anne’s life is radically different from mine, I relate to many aspects of her experience – having to overcome ingrained fear of physical difference, coming to terms with your body, allowing others to know that body, dealing with stupid and rude questions about being disabled (sometimes from members of the medical profession), coming up against physical barriers, finding love but then experiencing social barriers (like unsupportive friends, family), unwanted attention from creeps/people who want to treat you badly… it goes on, and on.
I know of people who are transgender and gay who can relate to these experiences too. It is the experience of having a body and/or sexual orientation that is severely stigmatised by society, and trying to find the courage to live fully and openly in spite of it. In describing specific events in her own life, Anne touched on so many universal elements of that experience of stigma, and I just have to tip my hat to her for this refreshingly frank article.
Seriously. I relate to this passage so hard – about the tension of being physically vulnerable, exposed, completely engaged, but wanting to protect your emotions too:
“The man invited me for a drink. The only way out of the building for me was a metal wheelchair lift. I cringed as it clanged and banged on the way down. I felt like the Goddess of Thunder (not in a good way). Side by side, we made it to the sidewalk. It was hard for me to push the chair because of the cross slope for rain run off, but I didn’t want to ask for help and appear weak or needy. We talked until two in the morning and he never asked me anything about my disability. He didn’t see it, and it felt as if I’d known him forever. And yet years of rejection stopped me from showing him how much I liked him.”
“As soon as the love relationship does not lead me to me, as soon as I in a love relationship do not lead another person to himself, this love, even if it seems to be the most secure and ecstatic attachment I have ever experienced, is not true love. For real love is dedicated to continually becoming.”
Be/become who you are…
And let me be/become wholly, authentically, who I am.
In the post ‘Girl Enlightened’, I mentioned I was about to watch the second seasons of the HBO shows Girls and Enlightened (at one point they were paired on the HBO schedule, so fitting I should watch them together). Having since watched both those seasons, over two posts this week I will discuss them – starting with Girls (I’m writing relentlessly and dealing with an anxiety issue at the moment, so I find thinking about characters, stories, and story worlds rather helpful to the process).
Whilst I only liked the first season of this show, I loved the second season, impressed at how many issues and themes it manages to explore in 10 episodes – issues that resonated really strongly. Season 2 of Girls is generally darker, which is appropriate as these characters age. It is funnier, which is never a bad thing (often it’s tiny throwaway lines buried in monologues that crack me up – Adam in A.A., mentioning how he showed Hannah how to use soap, for example. I choked on my Milo whilst watching that).
And, as is the case with second seasons, we get to know all the characters more intimately. Their flaws are as terrible and real as ever (written by someone I think genuinely loves these characters, flaws and all) and I like that – season 2 depicts with clarity the difficulty of personal change and growth in individuals and relationships. We see characters repeating mistakes and regressing, which is true to life for most – if not all – of us. But I’m not going to recap everything that happened in the season.
Instead, below are some things that got under my skin, positively and negatively, that the writers deserve major props for – seriously inspiring. This season did what the first one didn’t – it both moved me and made me reflect on my history of relationships in a deep way. I connected to every single character. And I always appreciate when a story does more than just entertain or distract me from the business of living. The greatest stories always do.
MARNIE: IMAGE IS EVERYTHING.
There are things that I really like about Marnie – she won me over back in the season one finale, as she started to loosen up and took the high road with Elijah and Charlie (classy). But one thing that really gets under my skin negatively is Marnie’s attraction to glamour, glaringly apparent and desperate this season. Marnie lost interest in Charlie for a number of reasons, but a minor one was that he didn’t match the image of what a “Man” should be in her messed up mind (whereas Booth Jonathan, inexplicably, did). Season one introduced us to this particular flaw – remember when she told then boyfriend Charlie that he should be able to “go about his business, piss me off and not give a fuck! It’s what men do.”
In season 2, Marnie’s masturbation fantasy comes true when she starts having (spectacularly funny) sex with the “brilliant” artist Booth, assuming thereafter that she is his girlfriend. This is soon followed by crushing humiliation, when she discovers Booth does not consider her to be his girlfriend at all, merely an employee. The Booth storyline is seriously inspired – it tells us so much about both the characters in only a handful of interactions. And, as big an asshole as he was, Booth Jonathan was completely right about Marnie’s insincere attraction to him – she liked his image and lifestyle, not him as a person. Even she admitted that she fell in love with “the idea of you”.
Marnie’s re-attraction to Charlie only after her discovery of his winning success is thus all the more nauseating to me. I felt bad for her after she lost her job at the gallery (although Ray’s quip to her that “I think the world has the 3 curators it actually needs” made me chortle – and I’ve been a curator!). I loved her attempt to view her hostess job in the best possible light, and accept that humbling experience with as much grace and positivity as possible – Marnie’s best qualities, I think. If the singing thing doesn’t work out this girl should be working in public relations. But her re-emergence in Charlie’s world – setting aside their important history and his feelings for her – is just terrible.
It reminded me of the big fight Marnie had with Hannah at the end of the first season, when equally flawed Hannah said to her, “What do you want besides like a boyfriend with a luxury rental? Seriously, that’s where your priorities are. You have always been this way, and now it is worse”. Marnie may actually love Charlie – her realisation/confession after brunch was sincere, no doubt. But her motivation for reconnecting to begin with was tainted. I can’t imagine where their relationship is going to go in Season 3, but, given that Christopher Abbott (the actor who plays Charlie) has fled the show, it can’t be good (side note: Abbott guest starred in Season 2 of Enlightened. Playing a cocaine enthusiast! See my next ‘Girl Enlightened’ post for more on that).
SHOSHANNA AND RAY: THE ODD COUPLE.
Shoshanna’s relationship with Ray enabled me to empathise with her (and Ray) as a character a lot more, given the scenario of older partner/cynical partner is very familiar to a younger version of me (as familiar as the dynamic between Hannah and Adam in season 1). The words she used to break up with Ray would have hurt him tremendously, and that was horrible to watch. Yet those same words speak to a level of self-awareness on Shoshanna’s part that I wish I had had earlier: “I can’t be surrounded by your negativity while I’m trying to grow into a fully formed human.” Weird to hear a character articulate that, but she’s absolutely right. Shosh is the youngest, just as flawed as the other girls (see cheating with the sexy doorman incident). But her breaking up with Ray is more of an initiation into adulthood than the relatively insignificant act of losing her virginity.
Maybe some of her complaints about Ray are superficial (not wanting to spend $4 on a taco is not a deal-breaker, yo). However, feeling emotionally and mentally drained with someone certainly is. Shoshanna’s learning where her boundaries are. For that reason, I loved this storyline. I’ve read a couple of comments that praise Ray for being such a great boyfriend (written by 30-yr-old + men I noted, unsurprised), and she certainly brings out his often-suppressed better nature. But, he is not a good match for Shosh, and he really does have issues. Ray is negative about everything (often in a very funny way, but that energy would suck to live with 24/7). He is rude to everyone including his supposed best friend Charlie – because deep down he is insecure, hates himself, and feels like a loser (see end of great episode “Boys” – written by Murray Miller).
In response to Shoshanna’s break up speech, in which she says she can no longer handle his “black soul” (ouch), Ray attacks her back and exclaims there is a “difference between negativity and critical thinking!”. But I don’t think that Ray actually knows what that difference is. Despite being 33, and intellectually sophisticated (at least, by his own estimation), he is one of the least self-aware characters in the show. And Adam called him out correctly during their fight on Staten Island: “You don’t know shit about love!”, he tells Ray. And how could he? Ray doesn’t even love himself.
(Funny too how Adam also says to Ray, “You’re just babies holding hands!” – given that when Shoshanna partially confesses about the doorman incident, she says she held the doorman’s hand. Ray feels safe with her because he sees her as innocent and inexperienced. I wonder if he could actually handle being with a complicated, sophisticated woman of his own age. One as hypercritical as he is).
HANNAH: WRITER’S BLOCK, MENTAL ILLNESS, & THE NATURE OF LOVE.
Oh my gawd, Hannah. I grew to love her in season 2 – that is in stark contrast to season 1, in which I found her infuriating. I laughed a lot at her this time, but of course she has more seriously ugly moments – her treatment of recovering junkie Laird (probably the kindest soul in this particular TV universe) was grossly inconsiderate, and although it had to be done (given how toxic things had become between them) the way she ended things with Adam was a mess. She even managed to make me side 100% with a Republican (her short-lived boyfriend at the beginning of the season, Sandy). Hannah turned on Sandy because he disliked her writing, but cites his politics as the problem – even though she really didn’t give a shit until he criticised her essay!
That being said, Hannah is more vulnerable in season 2. This vulnerability is exposed after Jessa goes AWOL – Hannah’s mental illness issues and her unravelling fear made me go from infuriated to genuinely sad for her. Close to the bone. The way Lena Dunham portrayed the illness symptoms made me think she (the human behind the character) had actually experienced that dysfunction (which I see she has, according to Google). It is such an honest depiction that I couldn’t help but be moved, and whatever criticism she copped for that storyline (and how shitty Hannah is to her parents), it is truthful. I’m thoroughly impressed at Dunham for going there. She made me want to wrap Hannah in a blanket, give her a hug, and tell her (albeit hilarious) publisher/editor/boss to back the eff off.
As for the season’s finale: whether ironically romantic or not, what I did appreciate was how it completely subverted my expectations of a deeply disturbing ending – who could have seen that coming? I like the Natalia character, and Adam and Hannah should probably stay the hell away from each other and pair with people more stable than they are. That being said, it was still profoundly moving, for one important reason: when Hannah was at her lowest – chopped up hair, alone, ill and frightened, hiding under a bed cover – he didn’t turn away. He came through for her, and it is that realness and strength that I really get about this aloof, unconventional creature – as crazy as he can be, he truly loves her, flaws and all. That ending, OTT as it was, said more about his character than hers.
So why does he love her? On Staten Island, when Adam found himself in the odd position of defending the girl he understandably wanted to purge from his brain forever, he said of her, “Everyone’s a difficult person. She was accepting of my brand of difficult.” For all her flaws – and lord knows she has many – I think this accepting nature is one of Hannah’s genuine positive qualities, rather than the more often cited traits of “wit” and “quirkiness” attributed to her even by Ray (traits which, by the way, have absolutely nothing to do with actual character, and more to do with personality. Of course, there is a difference).
But, do Adam and Hannah have a better grasp of love than the other characters in Girls? I don’t know. Unlike Natalia, Hannah didn’t care how dark his apartment was – being an oddball herself, she seemed to be able to embrace his dark side and kooky interests without asking for him to change at all. Her only requests were extremely basic and related to how he treated her. However, that may have been due to her own damage – in the episode ‘One Man’s Trash’ (a confounding detour which may or may not have been a dream), she tells the handsome doctor of her perception that she needed to take in all experiences in order to learn from them, so that she could help others with her learned insights. But, that this perception had led her to both invite and put up with some pretty fucked up and painful things. “Something’s broken inside of me”, she tearfully admits.
Hannah’s acceptance and courting of all experiences can therefore be extremely harmful to herself. Some of the experiences she accepted with Adam, she may have accepted because of this same inner brokenness. If Hannah was a real-life person, it would be better for her to try and understand what that brokenness is, and how to take care of herself, either solo or with someone healthier for her than him. Natalia obviously doesn’t have Hannah’s wounds – she is very clear with Adam about what she does and does not want, in bed and beyond. She obviously wants a conventional relationship, and to help him fulfil that role for her (see her reaction to his apartment and her offer to help him get “organised”… right before the disturbing ‘on all fours’ encounter* – an encounter she hates, but evidently forgives, whilst making it clear to him she is not cool with his darker sexual proclivities).
Hannah, meanwhile, doesn’t really know what she wants yet, or even who she is. She’s still just a girl (I say empathically, not condescendingly). I can’t imagine what will happen to her, or who she will become, in season 3.
Which is why I can’t wait to see it.
*Interesting to note that right before the “on all fours” incident, Natalia tells Adam that his apartment is “darker than you are”. My gosh, what a depressing end to an episode of television, but brilliantly directed and written by Dunham (with executive producer Jenni Konner). Dunham never wastes a sex scene – hers actually tell the audience a great deal about the characters and their relationships, which I appreciate.
“Welcome to the island of misfit toys.”
The Perks of being a Wallflower moved me. There, I said it. I ignored an unfavourable review and criticisms about structure and “big print” dialogue made by someone I know, watched it yesterday, and had a satisfying experience. In fact, I wish this gently told, sensitive, subtly funny and compassionate film had come out when I was in high school, rather than American Pie ;P (I kid)
This is weird, because I don’t often like “teen” movies (other than John Hughes films, that is). It’s not that I don’t like films that fit into that genre – on the contrary, I adore coming-of-age films. However, high school films that actually bring some realism to them often provoke emotional responses in me that frankly I hate. They tap into pain memories, you see, without giving me some catharsis at the end of that.
My high school experience was unfathomably pain full – I had friends, I guess, but what was going on in my life and, in particular, my head, was so, so bad, so unhealthy, that I wagged huge stretches of school, took pills when I didn’t need to, and sometimes cried myself to sleep. I was terrified and lonely and felt like a freak.
And so every now and then, if I find myself going past a secondary school, I will irrationally feel a little queasy in my stomach (I often have the same feeling around hospitals). Additionally, any teen film or TV series that isn’t ridiculously overdone/a comedy/a musical/a comedic-musical, is usually a huge turn off.
Not so, with The Perks of being a Wallflower. This 2012 film is based on the coming-of-age epistolary novel of the same name, written by American novelist Stephen Chbosky and published in 1999 (again, I wish I had read this in high school – grade 9 could have been vastly improved. Think I read ‘So Much to Tell You’, though).
The film follows Charlie, an introverted American teenager going into his freshman year of high school. In the opening scene, Charlie is typing what appears to be a letter/a journal entry, which he begins with the salutation “Dear Friend”. What he writes, hints at Charlie’s troubled history.
When he begins high school, he finds it to be worse than middle school. The only connection he makes is with his ‘Advanced English’ teacher Mr Anderson. Despite Charlie’s reticence about expressing his mind verbally in class, Mr Anderson notices his intelligence, and as the film goes on he gives Charlie books to stoke his passion and talent for writing, and build his knowledge of literature.
Charlie’s luck changes when he finally makes a friend – actually two friends. He connects with senior students Patrick, a flamboyant class clown who has to take Charlie’s shop class, and his kind-hearted stepsister Sam, whom he falls for immediately.
When they discover that Charlie’s best friend committed suicide and that Charlie is isolated, they welcome him into their social group (because they aren’t assholes, like so many teens in films tend to be) – which includes the intellectually aggressive Mary Elizabeth, who awkwardly becomes Charlie’s first girlfriend (you’ll understand why I say ‘awkwardly’ if you watch the film).
I won’t say anything more about these characters, because any more details would inevitable be spoilers. I will say that Charlie, Patrick and Sam have very real issues, histories, and lives, and are beautifully portrayed by the actors – Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller, and Emma Watson (and I don’t care that they’re in their 20s and playing teenagers – they look the part, unlike some other 20-somethings-playing-teens).
As I said in the beginning, I like coming-of-age type films, so I don’t need a helluva lot of plot if I find the protagonist and a few other characters captivating – which I definitely did here. Seeing characters just figuring shit out about life and themselves can keep me interested for a while, especially if I empathise with the protagonist. Charlie has to deal with something by the end of this film: a dark wall needs to come down… it is the wall that made him sick. Logan Lerman’s expressive face made me want to see that happen.
In fact my only criticism (if you could call it that) would be that all three of them were too nice, and frankly I have never met teenagers that kind (I’m sure they exist though, I’ve just not met them). Having said that, Jack Wilson of The Age criticised the film in this review for what he deemed falseness, and shying away from any aspect of adolescent behaviour:
“The script is transparently fake at almost every moment, congratulating the gang on their non-conformity while soft-pedalling any aspect of adolescent behaviour – drug use, sex, profanity – that might upset the American mainstream.”
My oh my, how one thing can be interpreted and experienced so profoundly differently depending on the condition of the eyes (and mind, and soul) of the people viewing it. Because whilst I agree that misfits are all too often played by ridiculously “good-looking and poised” people, and that sometimes the dialogue was too “transparent”, I didn’t see the “congratulating” of non-conformity he identified – I saw teenagers self-consciously adopting “non-conformist” sub-cultural affectations to establish some early sense of individual and group identity, which does tend to happen at that age.
And I didn’t see “soft pedalling” of adolescent behaviour – I saw innocence colliding with “real world” issues like drug use, sexuality, homophobia, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and mental illness which, despite the blurry naïveté that overlays it all and permeates a lot of this film (which did not seem inappropriate to me, given the nature of the protagonist) also rang true (I was doing reckless adolescent shit and sleeping with a teddy bear. Sometimes the lines aren’t all that clear).
Most of all, I saw three characters coming to terms with a complex idea, simply articulated first by Mr Anderson, and repeated later by Charlie:
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
Each of these characters are finding out what that means, for them – each one’s circumstances are different, but they are learning where lines need to be drawn and how to value themselves. That’s what this movie is about to me, and it also happens to be one of the big themes of this blog: learning how to love and accept yourself, so you can choose the best love for yourself in life. And accept no less than legitimate, equal, honest love.
All I ask for in a film, these days, is for a sensory/emotionally or intellectually satisfying experience. I want to be entertained or moved or, if I am lucky, both. Even with that as my standard, I am still frequently let down, depressed by brutal superficiality and the grey cynicism of too many filmmakers. Not so with Wallflower. It hit a nerve that hasn’t been hit in quite some time – but gave me some release at the end, too.
And now I’m looking forward to finally seeing Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln 🙂