advice

The #1 piece of advice I give to nieces & nephews: HEY KIDS, only date people who like you and whom you like, who are nice to you and to whom you can be nice.

You’d think it would be obvious, but it really, really isn’t, especially when you’re young. To young people schooled in the brand of romance sold in songs and movies, drama and acrimony can seem like the inevitable companion to romance. Drama and acrimony can seem like the definition of romance.

But they aren’t. At least, they don’t have to be. Only date people who treat you well, whom you can treat well, and only date people you genuinely like. It’s simple, obvious advice, and it needs to be said a lot more than it is.

no words can express…

Pontypool heart screenshot - Version 2

“St. Valentine’s Day is an excuse to express our most intense or obscure passions. But words can be a frail tool to capture the complications and complexities of this thing we call love: the sweet blush of infatuation, the kinship and kindness of true companions, the frenzy of unfettered lust, the torments of jealousy, betrayal, or heartbreak. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that three films set on Valentine’s Day hinge on the fragility and feebleness of words, creating worlds where meaning and reason fall apart.”- Kiss is Kill

Today at The Toast, my guide to three Valentine’s Day films where meaning falls apart: Pontypool, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

The Igor Colada Song (Nice Cape)

Inspired by #supervillainpop:

I was weary of my Master
We’d been together too long
Like a reanimated monster
We’d let lay dead for too long

So while he dreamed in his ether mask
I browsed Craigslist in bed
In “miscellaneous romance”
There was this rant that I read

“If you like piña coladas
And making blood flow like rain,
If you’re not hung up on ethics,
Can procure half a brain.
If you’d like making love at midnight
With a dude in a cape
Then you’re the lackey I’ve looked for
Write to me and escape.”

I didn’t think about my Master
I know that sounds kind of mean
But me and my mad scientist
Had vented many a spleen
So I clicked on the button
And replied to his ad
And though I’m no evil genius
I thought it wasn’t half-mad

“Yes, I like piña coladas
And making blood flow like rain.
I hope that you’re into hunchbacks
And are crim’nally insane.
I’ve got to meet you by sundown
And cut through all this red-tape
At a lair on Skull Island
Where we’ll plan our escape.”

So I waited with high hopes
And he skulked in the place
I knew his scowl in an instant
I knew the scar on his face
It was my own ghastly Master
And he said, “Oh, it’s you.”
Then we laughed, “Mwahahaha,”
And he said, “I never knew

That you like piña coladas
And making blood flow like rain
And the glow of the lasers
As they dole out sweet pain.
If you’d like making love at midnight
With a dude in a cape,
You’re the lackey I’ve looked for
Come with me and escape.”

Dear Dad

Dear Dad, I was thinking about “Macbeth” again this week, and the cat i’ the adage. Whenever I read that, I think of talking to you.

Dear Dad, I got some new cartridges for those pens you gave me when I first went back to school. Thanks for thinking of me, and for knowing how useful it is to have brightly colored pens so classmates don’t walk off with them.

Dear Dad, it might be about time for me to have a BLT. I never have one without thinking of that midnight with you. I wish I could take you to the neighborhood restaurant where I sometimes get them. You’d hate the noise and love the fries, and you would have been as vexed as I was that they called themselves Hot Suppa but weren’t open for supper, and as weirdly relieved as I was when they fiiiiinally started serving during supper hours.

Dear Dad, not too long ago a community member asked for help decoding his late father’s document full of punchlines without the jokes. I was able to explain one of the jokes and to tell a little story about you and me, too.

Dear Dad, I’ve been in pain for a few weeks now — nothing serious, but unpleasant and even scary sometimes. The Fella has been unsurprisingly amazing and thoughtful during all that time. I wish you’d met him. You’d love and trust him with all your heart, just like I do. I think you’d love him for himself, not just because he loves and cares for your daughter so sweetly and unfailingly.

Dear Dad, I’ve spent a lot of years unwinding my complicated feelings about my childhood and the ways my parents coped with (or didn’t cope with) your own grief and heartache before I was born, and how that affected my own adult relationships and my own childless state, and I know that I might never come to the end of that skein.

But it gets easier and easier to reconcile that complex snarl of feelings with the simple love that I feel for you and Mom, and to say it over and over: Dear Dad, I love you. Dear Dad, I miss you.

A Serious Man

The Coen brothers’ darkly comic A Serious Man uses the uncertainty of quantum mechanics — and especially the unresolvable uncertainty of Schrödinger’s paradox — as a metaphor for the unpredictability of life, and the pains we nonetheless take in futile attempts to impose predictability on the inherently uncertain future.

Physics professor Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is suddenly a man beleaguered — by fate, by coincidence, by a vengeful God? Who knows?

His marriage is in trouble, his job is in danger, his brother is ill, both mentally and physically (and sleeping, and seeping, on Larry’s couch), his children are sullen and misbehaved. Buffeted by uncertainty, Larry turns to his community, to his rabbis. He’s looking not for advice, but for something more concrete: for answers. [SPOILERS ahead.] Larry assures these studied, somber men that he can grapple with the greatness of God — that he too is a serious man capable of understanding, if only they will tell him why these hardships are befalling him.

If you believe in an omniscient, all-powerful god, surely it’s plain hubris for a layperson to think that he can, through a mere few days of application and inquiry, grasp the unknowable purpose of that deity’s actions. Job finally wailed his way into an audience with God and still didn’t get an answer, but Larry Gopnik thinks he can wrest one out of a few conversations with rabbis. The impossibility, the futility, of his task is emphasized by the very name the rabbis use to refer to the God whom Larry find so approachable: not Adonai, not Yahweh, not any of the names that can be spoken in worship, but HaShem, literally “the name.” Larry Gopnik cannot grasp the ineffable plans of the almighty; he must not even speak His name.

Larry’s field of study has perhaps emboldened him to such audacity. Physicists are able to fathom some of the great secrets of the universe and even represent them through equations, but Larry of all people should know that the ineffable doesn’t yield to cold hard logic and that not everything is knowable: his specialty is quantum mechanics, and the only physics we ever see Larry teach revolve around uncertainty.

In a dream, Larry presents his class with a breathlessly rapid and precise presentation of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, concluding as he writes, “It proves we can’t ever really know what’s going on.” The bell rings; class dismissed. As the students bustle out, Prof. Gopnik yells out “But even though you can’t figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the mid-term!”

[Larry’s dream; audio NSFW]

Compare this with Larry’s comically inept real-life lectures: he tap-taps at the blackboard with his chalk, writing a complex formula and narrating his progress with vague, uninstructive mutters: “You following this?… okay?.. so… this part is exciting…. so, okay. So. So if that’s that, then we can do this, right? Is that right? Isn’t that right? And that’s Schrödinger’s paradox, right? Is the cat dead or is the cat not dead? Okay!”

A failing student comes to Larry’s office to complain about his grade, and especially to complain that Prof. Gopnik’s standards are unjust. He can’t do the mathematics, the student explains, but “I understand the physics. I understand the dead cat.” Larry gently but firmly informs him, “But you can’t really understand the physics without understanding the math. The math tells how it really works. That’s the real thing. The stories I give you in class are just illustrative. They’re like… fables, say, to help give you the picture. I mean… even I don’t understand the dead cat.”

And it’s true, he doesn’t understand the dead cat or the fables. And neither do we. The Coens have already reminded us of this in the opening scene: a period piece, a haunting little story about a dybbuk (or is it?) performed in Yiddish. The first 7 minutes of the film are spent with characters we never see again, speaking a language most of the audience doesn’t understand, grappling with a mystery that will never be solved.

Larry Gopnik is in search of a certainty that doesn’t exist. He wants some tangible proof, a measure by which to decipher the future. He’s a serious man who expects his intelligence and diligence to render the confusing, unpredictable world into something logical, legible, verifiable. Larry is not so different from his poor lost brother, the unstable wanderer with a dog-eared notebook scrawled through with an elaborate “probability map of the universe.” Though the larger secrets of the universe can be revealed by study and science, the smaller mysteries — the ones that matter most to us, our lives and our loves — are not susceptible to our tiny writings and equations, however hard we try. Our futures cannot be predicted with mathematical accuracy, and often they cannot even be understood as they unfold.

So, if the meaningful, fateful events of our little lives cannot be predicted or controlled or even fully understood, how are we to extract any meaning from this existence? I think A Serious Man answers that question in its 20th-century opening: from the 19th century shtetl, the camera hurtles us down a dark passage outlined in blushing light and thrumming with intense music… which turns out to be the ear canal of Danny, Larry’s adolescent son, who sits in class with a transistor earpiece illicitly jammed into his ear so he can listen to Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” instead of his Hebrew lesson.

The song recurs as a chorus throughout the film. When Larry is at his most distraught — after his fruitless meetings with rabbis and lawyers, as he is crushed under the weight of accumulating troubles, when he despairs of ever finding the answer he sought — the song blasts out as the soundtrack to an erotic dream. And again, after Danny’s bar mitzvah (where he becomes, like his father, “a serious man”), the elusive Rabbi Marshak finally appears, intoning these heavily-accented words of wisdom to the stuporously stoned boy-become-man: “When the truth turns out to be lies and all the joy within you dies. Then what?”

As trite as it may sound, Jefferson Airplane delivers the answer: “You better find somebody to love.” This is the last message of A Serious Man: in the film’s very last moments, as the literal whirlwind (echoing the whirlwind from which God spoke to Job) bears down on a crowd of children milling around a parking lot, we hear it again through Danny’s earpiece: “You better find somebody to love.” And if that person leaves you or betrays you or dies or vanishes, you must find another, and another, and another: a spouse, a parent, a sibling, a child, a neighbor, a student, a rival, a friend. No matter what befalls you in this unpredictable, sometimes cruel world, you better find somebody to love, because love — giving love, creating kindness and passion and selflessness where there was nothing — is a powerful act of affirmation against uncertainty, an act of creation in a void. Maybe even a divine act: to find somebody to love.

coupling

Me: Argh!
The Fella [hurrying solicitously from the next room because my back is bothering me today]: Whoa, what happened?
Me: No, nothing, nothing. I just did that thing — that thing where you bang something, y’know.
The Fella [louche and with a theatrical leer]: Roger that!
Me: Y’know, when you bang your —
The Fella: Copy that! I do know it. Ohhhhhhh yeeeeeah.
Me: I hit the ball of my ankle on the futon, is all.
The Fella: Cannnnnn dooooo.
Me: All you heard was “ball,” wasn’t it?
The Fella: Annnnny time.

everything

The Fella returns to the room from grabbing a beer. Before he sits, he reaches out, and strokes the top of my head.

Him: Oooh, your head is so nice.

Me: Thank you. It’s right at the top of my body. That’s where I keep it.

Him: I like everything about you.

No punchline, folks. No joke. I just wanted to document this moment so I won’t forget it. Because I like everything about him, too.

unconditional

I came down with a cold just before New Year’s Eve, and it persisted until, ooooh, yesterday. That’s more than two weeks of snotty, sniveling sickness — and two weeks of experiencing The Fella’s shining example of unconditional love. Some simple acts of love:

– insisting I sleep cozied down in the bed with him instead of confining my coughing, hacking, restless, contagious self to the hard sofa.

– gazing at my slack, shambling frame as I change from a sweaty, baggy pair of gray PJs to a clean, baggy pair of gray PJs and saying (in a voice ringing with sincerity), “You’re so pretty!”

– driving to the restaurant whose name and address I don’t know to order the soup I can’t pronounce.

emotional math

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about partnership and marriage, and especially about being married to The Fella, which is, y’know, awesome.

This Ask Metafilter comment gets to the heart of that awesomeness:

You know when you were a kid, and you’d get excited about sleepovers because you could stay up all night watching movies and talking to someone who just cracked you up and really understood you? Remember how special those nights felt?

Every day is like that now. Except we get to have really good sex, too.

Yup, that sums it up: I get to spend every day and every night with my very favorite person from now on, and we get to express that favorite-ness in every way we wish.

But I still haven’t really internalized that this is a two-way street of Awesome — that my very favorite person’s very favorite person is me.

Let me digress.

I had a rotten morning. You don’t need to know the details, but I made a small error that caused the not-sane part of my brain to castigate me and call me names (which A. is not productive and B. is NOT ALLOWED) while I flailed around trying to get dressed and out of the house in a hurry.

During this ridiculous few minutes of blistering self-loathing, The Fella kept interjecting helpful comments like, “You’re not stupid, you just made a mistake” and “How can I help?” and “Are these your pants?” When he should have been sleeping peacefully (and could very rightfully have been giving me grief over my meltdown), he was cheerfully pitching in to soothe me, to help me, to solve my problem.

And later in the day, I added some of those things together. I did the emotional math: I am married to my very favorite person, the person whose opinion I value more than anyone else’s, the person who I think is the downright AWESOMEST person in the whole wide world.

And he thinks I’m THE AWESOMEST, too.

I think he must be right. You don’t argue with the transitive property.