If I Hadn’t Made Me, I’d Have Fallen Apart By Now

Forgive me whileFour Christmases I climb up on my soapbox for a bit.  But I’ve noticed this trend in movies and TV shows, not a pervasive trend, but one that rears its annoying head every now and then.  And it’s grating on my nerves.  You see, men and women as depicted in film simply cannot achieve a life of fullfillment unless they find their soulmate and have babies.  I know, I know… the vast majority of adults want to be married and want to be parents, so this depiction is merely mirroring real life.  But what irks me are these characters who at the beginning of the story profess their desire not to settle down and have kids and proceed to undergo some life-altering revelation during which they realize they’ve been lying to themselves all along and really do, like everyone else, just want to be happily married with a kid or two.

Four Christmases is the most recent example of such a scenario.  At the start, main characters Kate and Brad want to enjoy their lives without the constraints of parenthood.  They travel around the world, excel in their careers and dote on each other.  That is, until they get stuck spending time with their families during the holiday season and after seeing their nephews and nieces, realize what they’ve really been wanting the whole time is that which they adamantly insisted was not for them: marriage and babies.  Yes, by the film’s end, they pull a complete 180 and confess their deep desires for those very things they originally claimed to abhor.  Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, while not expressly about this subject, also fall victim to its themes.  Both sets of couples end up happier than humanly possible at the close of their respective stories because they wind up with something they never thought they wanted (or never gave much thought to at all): marriage and babies.  Such stories are less about couples finding happiness and more about conformity and lack of individuality and/or free will and WHAT THE FUCK, HOLLYWOOD???  When will you give it a rest?

Just to be clear, I have no problems with marriage, commitment or parenthood but I don’t understand why any person should be cClooneyonsidered in denial or even unstable simply because he/she doesn’t want either one or both of those things.  Do we all have to live the same life?  Is it such a radical idea to believe that marriage and/or parenthood simply aren’t for everyone?  Isn’t the great freedom of America that we have the right to pursue our own happiness, whatever that entails?  Does anyone actually believe George Clooney is a repressed wanna-be husband/father who’s been in denial or somehow unaware of his true desires his whole adult life?  Bitch, please.

Look, I love a good romantic comedy and I’m certainly not suggesting that all movies in which two people fall in love, marry and copulate are worthless.  I, too, swooned when Harry and Sally finally got together and I rooted for Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy to fall in love from the very first scene.  “A life without love, that’s terrible!”  (To be said like the most swoon-worthy of them all, Ewan McGregor, in pursuit of a certain cortisan.)  But do ALL love stories have to end in wedding bells and a bun in the oven?  I, for one, feel that each of our lives should be sort of tailor-made.  Countless “I’m a single career woman suddenly forced into custody of my sister’s/best friend’s/random relative’s baby” movies the likes of Baby Boom, The Family Man, Raising Helen, No Reservations, Life As We Know It, etc. perpetuate the idea that single/child-free individuals can only know how empty their lives are after being forced into parenthood.  Then, it all becomes clear and they can move forward in their new, enriched and superior lives.  Frankly, it’s a played out and tired tale.

Occasionally, we do get stories about individuals who truly do not yearn for marriage/parenthood.  And those people are portrayed as having a tumblr_mifrltUIlK1s2ohego1_250mental illness.  Cases in point: Big Fan and Young Adult.  While both are excellent flicks in their own right, I would love to watch a film about a character who doesn’t desire to be a parent and is simultaneously a healthy, stable and happy adult.  I realize they’re the minority but they do in fact exist.  Actually, only once, just ONCE, and very recently, have I seen such a character.  In last week’s episode of the superb HBO series, Enlightened, guest star Dermot Mulroney who’s playing an unattached journalist described the reasons for his past divorce and never have I heard someone explain it as simply and succinctly as this: “We just wanted different things.  She wanted kids and dogs and Christmas trees.  What I want is to live in this world.  I’m greedy.  I want meaning.  I want experience.  I want to make a difference… all that bullshit.”

I know that a healthy, committed relationship is deeply satisfying and I don’t doubt that being a parent is a tremendously rewarding experience.  But that path is far from the only road to a full and happy life and I’d really love to see the other side get its moment in the sun.

~Nikki

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Classic Literature Challenge

classicsI’ve been inspired.  Which isn’t exactly a rarity where reading is concerned.  I recently read about a reading challenge on a fellow blogger and lover of literature’s website and have decided to embark on one of my very own, though I am scaling it down a bit only because there isn’t enough time in one person’s life to read ALL the things.

Here’s the scoop: my challenge is to make a list of 10 classics, not necessarily American classics – just any book generally considered a classic in literature.  The source of my inspiration allows for books you’ve previously read but I am limiting myself to ones I’ve never gotten to and some I’ve even dreaded reading but feel I owe it to myself as a literature enthusiast to read.  (It is a challenge, after all.)  As soon as I’m finished with the book I’m currently reading (Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond, if you must know), I will embark on reading every title on this list, hopefully with no more than a week or two devoted to each selection.

So, here’s my list:

  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot

Wow.  Looking at it now, I realize there is only one book by a female author on it.  (George Eliot is the pen name of female British author Mary Ann Evans.)  Before you judge me, allow me to say it’s only because I’ve already read every book by Jane Austen, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Secret Garden, The House of Mirth and The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, which are, collectively, the most popular and famous classics by women.  I guess it’s time I give the men their fair shake.

For anyone else up to the challenge, make your list and share it in the comments.  And get ready… in a few weeks, the games will begin!

~Nikki

Bloody Ripper!

Ripper StreetJust when I think it’s impossible to love British pop culture any more, those wily Brits give me something new to cherish.  I’m speaking, of course, of Ripper Street, the new drama now airing on BBC America.  Set in the East End of London in 1889 during the aftermath of the infamous Jack The Ripper murders, Ripper Street is rife with potential.  After watching the pilot, I couldn’t help but wonder why it’s taken so long to put such a show together.  The setting and period in history comes already fully emotionally charged and offers a wealth of possibilities.

The show centers around Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) of the notorious H-Division – the police precinct responsible for keeping order in the district of Whitechapel in London.  Whitechapel itself is unstable, its citizens still reeling from the gruesome murders of Jack The Ripper, whose identity remains unknown.  Ripper Street picks up sometime in 1889, mere months after what would be the last of Jack The Ripper’s murders and the residents of Whitechapel are still terrified and many in the police force eager to pin any number of crimes on him despite evidence to the contrary, such is their paranoia of his return.  Inspector Reid, fortunately, is dedicated to uncovering the truth behind every crime and very little seems to escape his keen powers of perception.  He’s sort of a less eccentric (and much sexier) Sherlock Holmes.  His partner is Sgt. Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) but there’s no comparing him to Watson.  Drake is a loyal sidekick and clever enough in his own right but he seems more Reid’s muscle than anything else.  And together, they are much seedier than Sherlock and Watson ever were.  In the show’s pilot, we see them moonlighting in an underground boxing ring with Reid organizing and Drake skillfully fighting.  And they certainly aren’t in it for love of the sport; they discreetly and conspiratorially throw fights without batting an eye.

The American surgeon Captain Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) completes their triangle and while he is a physician, his character is less than professional.  He’s hiding out in a brothel with a woman whose relationship to him remains unclear (are they siblings? former lovers? accomplices to some past crime?) and reluctantly allows Reid to deputize him to aid in investigations, much to his lady’s dismay.  Long Susan (MyAnna Buring) is mistress of the brothel in which Jackson resides and her role grows with each episode but even now – five weeks in – her history with Jackson is largely unknown.

Matthew Macfadyen shines as Reid, a man dedicated to rooting out truth as well as justice but who is far from a one-note good guy.  HisMatthew Macfadyen sad and lonely wife, Emily (Amanda Hale), alludes to the death of their young daughter, to which Reid replies that he cannot mourn her, though he will not explain why.  The right side of his neck and shoulder are covered in scars from an apparent burn and again, we receive no explanation to their origin; these details are nothing more than brief glimpses of Reid’s dark side.  Which isn’t nearly as obvious as Captain Jackson’s, whose obscure past makes for amusing asides and intricate plot complications.  The cast consistently gives superb performances and the gritty Guy Ritchie-style of shooting adds to the tension.  The sense of fear and near-panic that permeates each episode is practically a character in itself, exacerbated by the local media’s eagerness to sensationalize every crime.

Real-life Reid, Drake and Jackson never solved the case of Jack The Ripper so I don’t expect much resolution there.  But whatever closure the series may find, I am certain it will at least make for one entertaining ride.

~Nikki

There Is Greatness In You

It might just be that there isn’t anything enticing currently in theaters but I’ve spent the better part of the last hour watching various movie trailers on imdb.  And I have to tell you, there are some good-looking flicks on the horizon.  Here are five upcoming films I’m pretty excited about:

I know you’ve seen this before but it looks so freakin’ funny, I had to share it with you one more time (just in case you missed it somehow):

And finally, psychological thrillers almost always disappoint me but with Rosario Dawson and James McAvoy in front of the camera and Danny Boyle behind it, my interest is piqued.

~N.

The Curse That Followed Me My Whole Life Through

Oscar WaoIt seems that books (and movies, for that matter) that have received countless critical accolades and perhaps an award or two don’t live up to the hype given them.  At least, not in my opinion.  This certainly isn’t always true but it happens often enough to be deemed a trend.  Such was my experience with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, a novel that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2008.  First and foremost, I want to say that I liked the book and I do recommend it for any reader who may be interested.  That being said, it didn’t move me.

Diaz’s novel is a chronicle of the life of overweight, geeky sci-fi nerd Oscar de Leon, the son of a Dominican immigrant born in New York, raised in New Jersey but who doesn’t quite fit in anywhere.  Oscar defies two very different stereotypes: 1) that sexually frustrated nerds obsessed with LotR and Dungeons and Dragons are white boys and 2) that Dominican men are suave machismos capable of charming the panties off of any girl, no matter how beautiful.  Oscar is fat, awkward, uses a vocabulary so rich, his peers hardly understand him and seems to be followed by something called the fuku, a sort of Dominican curse initially struck unto his grandfather that followed his mother all the way to America and adhered itself to Oscar’s sad life.

But this story isn’t Oscar’s alone.  It’s also a chronicle of his familial history.  It tells his grandfather’s tale, a particularly tragic story of how he came to obtain this curse in an effort to save his wife and children from the wicked Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.  Oscar’s mother’s story is also told in great length along with a shorter section devoted to his sister, Lola.  His grandfather’s, mother’s and sister’s stories are all told in as much (if not more) detail as his own and, in my opinion, are more interesting.  Oscar’s family history kept my attention but his story lost me a little, in particular in the book’s final section, wherein Oscar meets his violent and untimely end.  The title forewarns his fate; his life certainly is brief.  It’s the wondrous part that didn’t hold up.  I found Oscar’s tale uninspired and after all his family experienced and overcame, his choices seemed undeserving.  Perhaps that is the point, though – that the middle class American children of immigrants don’t live up to the dreams of their parents and grandparents who’ve overcome impossible obstacles to give them more.

Diaz interjects each chapter with lengthy footnotes, science fiction and fantasy references, comic book analogies and various Spanish phrases (I continuously had to stop to look up English translations – I knew I should have taken Spanish in high school!), proving that he shares his title character’s love of sci-fi/fantasy literature.  He also switches narratives; most of the book is told by a narrator who’s hardly a side character, Oscar’s college roommate and his sister’s on-and-off-again boyfriend, Yunior.  Lola tells her own story and both Oscar’s grandfather’s and mother’s tales seem to be narrated by an unknown omniscient narrator (though I think it’s still Yunior, it’s never explained how he knows these intimate details of their lives).  It’s a novel about identity, masculinity, family and the hardships overcome by the ancestors of American children who may or may not squander the opportunities that were so hard-won by their parents and grandparents.  It’s well-written and evenly paced and overall, I did like it.  But its conclusion felt a little anti-climactic for my taste.

~Nikki

Can Nobody Hear Me?

IMG_1426I read somewhere that the key difference between introverts and extroverts is in the way they gain energy or momentum, in the way they recharge themselves, so to speak.  For example, if one feels energized from solitude or in the submersion of a solitary activity that interests him/her, that person is likely an introvert.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, an extrovert recharges him/herself in social situations and prefers group activities to one-on-one conversations.  I am beyond a doubt, an introvert.

Which isn’t to say that I’m shy or meek.  (I’m sure I’ve never been called either of those.)  But I prefer social interactions with one or two people to those with large groups, I like to work alone without interruptions and after a particularly long day, I unwind and recharge my batteries by spending time alone or with only my husband and dog.

But even we introverts need to bond, to connect with others at some point.  We humans are, for lack of a more appropriate term, pack animals, after all and even the most introverted of us needs someone with whom we can connect.  And lately, I’ve been feeling a lack of kinship with the folks around me.  You see, for a few years I worked with two or three people with whom I had a great deal in common, more so than I do with the average person I might happen to meet.  About a year and a half ago, I took a promotion that removed me from that group and placed me in another larger group of co-workers.  And there isn’t a single one with whom I have three things in common.  Sure, we’re all scientists and have similar professional interests but that’s about it.  We have entirely different senses of humor, different personal lives and personal goals, different perspectives on politics, religion and life, in general.  This isn’t entirely a bad thing; I like to think we’ve allowed each other (a few of us, at least) to learn new things and gain a broader view on many topics.  As an individual and certainly as a writer, that’s something I greatly value.  But it isn’t without its drawbacks.

I’m not prone to loneliness.  In fact, I quite enjoy my own company or that of a good book and I often dread social situations.  (Bridal and/or baby showers are THE WORST.)  But even I have found that spending 40-50 hours of every week surrounded by people to whom I can’t relate and who certainly don’t relate to me to be a lonely business.  Perhaps I feel it more sharply now because I grew accustomed to spending 8 or 9 hours of every weekday with a couple of people who shared my interests and views and opinions and tastes in a great many matters and the transition from that to having NO ONE at work with even remotely similar opinions or tastes has left me wanting.  I’ll admit I am a relatively restless person by nature but it seems I feel it more acutely now than I have in the past.

What’s to be gained from this?  I am now more aware than usual of my need for the few people in my personal life to whom I always feel connected and for the projects in which I can lose myself – one of which is this blog.  It has become a treasured outlet and even though I was reluctant at first to commit to it, I am happy I did.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: thanks for reading.

~Nikki

I’m Scared Of What’s Behind And What’s Before

Martha Marcy May MarleneImagine a life without a career.  With success that’s measured by your own peace and contentedness rather than money or possessions.  Imagine a life wherein you share your best, most intimate moments with others like you, people who’ve positively impacted your life and for whom you care, deeply.  Imagine not waking to an alarm, not balancing your checkbook, not competing with co-workers for peak season vacation days.  Imagine living on a piece of land whose beauty shocks and inspires you and whose fertility feeds and sustains you.  Such is the life young Martha seeks and finds on a gorgeous little farmhouse in New England.  But such a life comes with its own hardships, and with great compromise.

Such is the story writer and director Sean Durkin slowly and beautifully unfolds in the disquieting Martha Marcy May Marlene.  The film is slowly paced but never does it lose you.  On the contrary, it dishes out its story in increments, each one hooking you a little more, a little more until you’re so engrossed, you’re leaning close to catch every word and trying to notice every minute detail so as not to miss a beat.

John Hawkes plays Patrick, the apparent leader of a commune-style farmhouse wherein several young men and women voluntarily live, including the flick’s protagonist, Martha (Elizabeth Olson).  Patrick wears the same white V-neck in nearly every scene, a paper thin shirt that shows every dip in his sternum, the veins in his arms more prominent than his stringy muscles, giving him the look of a weasel which suits his character well except when he masterfully delivers his lines.  His words have the bold sound of forthcoming honesty but in fact hide something sinister, a cleverly manipulative trick in every sentence that allows him to simultaneously gain the trust of and assert dominance over the pack of barely adult kids he’s amassed.  In the first few minutes, we see Martha leave the farmhouse in the quiet hours of early morning.  She hides in the woods while her companions chase after her and calls her sister once she reaches a pay phone.  Her sister, Lucy (Sarah Paulson), picks her up and takes her to her home in Connecticut, some three hours away.  Soon, it’s revealed that Martha (called Marcy May by her farmhouse cohabitants) has been estranged from her big sister for a couple of years.

The movie cuts back and forth between the present and the recent past, slowly piecing together Martha’s life at the commune and her life with her sister, two lifestyles that couldn’t be more different.  As you may have already guessed, the group of young people at the farmhouse is, essentially, a cult led by Patrick whose presence is nothing if not chilling.  It is unclear what drove Martha to such a place and made her vulnerable to its manipulations but she is fairly effectively brain washed while there and Olson’s performance offers a painfully real look at the kind of dissociative personality disorder she develops from it.  She tries to function as a normal part of society once back with her sister but can’t quite get it right and when Lucy rightfully lashes out at her for behaving inappropriately, Martha sharply alternates between pitiful apologies and sharp-tongued insults.  One of the many things she learned with Patrick is how to hurt and trick using nothing buOlsont words.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is a quiet powerhouse of a film offering gorgeous scenery and exceptional performances.  It didn’t get a lot of publicity and I understand why; it doesn’t have mass appeal.  But it is a gem of a film and not only film students and cinemaphiles will love it.  Everyone who enjoys a good story well-told will be pleased.  It’s far from a feel-good movie.  But its themes revolving around relationships and identity will resonate with you; its haunting images and outstanding performances will stick with you long after the movie’s end.

~Nikki