Sunday, February 27, 2011

Embracing Oscar.


 I’m watching the Oscars this year. 

Big woop, right? 

The thing is, I haven’t watched the Oscars, let alone movies, in almost four years. It is somewhat of a big deal for me because I used to work in the movie business. It was my life, if you will. I wrote screenplays and made some short films, and one indie, with my ex-husband. Movies were our life. We made a point of seeing everything that was worth seeing or relevant to the projects we were writing. We would discuss them during the film - or at least I would. I’m one of those annoying people who can’t shut up and states the obvious. It doesn’t matter who is sitting next to me. I’ve been known to turn to a stranger in the tensest of moments and ask, “Omg, is she going to die?” and even, at the height of a happy ending, when the guy is about to kiss the women he’s been pining over: “Oh!!! They’re in love!”

I love movies. I used to make shitty black and white ones on 16mm. They were about repression and squashed dreams. I didn’t have the capacity back then to comprehend what my choice of subject might actually be saying about me or my subconscious desires, but looking back, it’s as obvious as the symbolism in “Black Swan.” Similarly, I knew it was telling that since my divorce, I have been unable to go to the movies. When I did, it would fill me with melancholy. It made me miss my ex-husband, who analyzed them in the same manner and with the same objective as I did. A random line or a name in the credits would remind me of an idea he and I had come up with, or an absurd meeting we had with some douchebag executive - that no one else could relate to.  

So I just stopped going. I wrote essays and fiction instead. I banned the whole screenplay writing thing. I wasn’t interested.  I decided that novel writing was more worthwhile. At least with a book, the end product lives on paper. The writer has some semblance of control (save a publishers notes, of course). With a piece of fiction, at least you’re not dependent on fund raising, director and actor attachments, and the stars aligning when the moon is not in retrograde over Venus and Mars at the same time.

But in the past year, I started taking an interest in movies again. Perhaps it’s another indication of my emotional progress. I might even consider writing a screenplay, if an idea is more suited to that format than a book.  Once I finished my novel, and started writing other things, I realized that all those years of toiling in the movie business was the best storytelling school I could have ever attended.  So thinking about that time no longer makes me sad or regretful.

So this year, I managed to see “127 Hours” (loved it), “Black Swan” (eye roll) “The Fighter” (an admirable rip off of “Rocky” meets a Ben Affleck Boston movie), “Inception” (who cares whether Leo was dreaming or not; all that matters is that he is dreamy), and my favorite – probably the best film I’ve seen in a decade (minus four years of seeing nothing) – “The King’s Speech.”

I hope “The King’s Speech” wins, although it probably won’t. Movies with British accents always have a good shot, but Dame Judi isn't in this one.  

My mother (who hasn’t seen any of these) thinks that “127 Swans” is going to win, and by the time any of you read this post, we will probably both be wrong.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Third Roommate. Does every couple have one?


Couples who live together shouldn't have a third roommate. I don’t mean Kato living in the guesthouse or the twenty something couch surfer that never leaves. I’m talking about that thing that clutters the space, causes you to fight, and never seems to go away.

It’s different for everyone. For a friend of mine and her fiance, it’s the wet towel.

The wet towel that ends up on the floor, the chair in the kitchen, and worst of all, the bed.  For some reason, the guy can’t seem to hang the thing up, and my friend cannot seem to let it go. It could be the downfall of their relationship and the one issue she cant stop talking about or get over. Why is that towel so annoying? Why has its size expanded to exaggerated proportions, cloaking all the good in the relationship? As women, we hate being our mothers. We don’t want our partners to make us into our mothers by acting like they did when they were kids, prompting us to scold them til they hate us. But then why can’t the guy just hang the darn thing up? What is he passively aggressively trying to say?

Is he claiming his territory, or is it just a stubborn refusal to concede? If the third roommate was eliminated, well then what? Would another problem, perhaps the real issue, surface in its place?  My friend should just hire a cleaning lady. “These things are fixable,” I said. “You’re lucky in this case - you can just throw money at it.” 

I had this issue with my ex-husband, before we were married, when we were living together. Boxers were abandoned upright on the bathroom floor, and shreds of toilet paper dangled like confetti on an empty cardboard roll.  Maybe he just didn’t think to change it, or knew that I would.  But why is it so hard? A guy takes the time to dig through a pile of comics and select the perfect one to accompany him to the can, but he can’t stop at the linen closet on his way and grab a fresh roll of toilet paper? So, we hired a cleaning lady. That, plus some learned conscientiousness from my ex, solved the problem.  The roommate was banished! 

But then a new one moved in. Xbox.

Halo became the guest on the couch that my ex chose to interact with rather than the roommate he moved in with (me).  I felt like my mother, pleading with him to play less, or at least put it away at bed time.  That didn’t work. People advised me, “You should just throw his Xbox out when he’s not looking!” Kick the roommate out once and for all!  But I couldn’t do that. Then I would firmly be solidifying myself in the role of mom.

I wanted it to come from him.

Did it, you wonder? Well, if you read my blog, you know how that story ended.

My ex-cub had his own apartment, but he practically lived in mine. And so did his guitars. In their black cases. Which when stuffed together in a corner resembled three dead roommates.

I suspect we all have that thing in our lives. That thing that causes us to triangulate, that divides our attention and obfuscates the underlying issue. It’s much easier to talk about, and to, the third roommate - blame it for all our problems - instead of confronting the scary shit hiding under the dirty laundry. And the towel, like all laundry, no matter how many times we tend to it, keeps coming back.

It's still too early with my new boyfriend to identify our third roommate, or if we'd even have one; we don't live together yet, nor does he even have a key to my apartment. But regardless, our communication is excellent. Oh. Wait. There are those stubborn string cheese wrappers that reappear stuck to the counter and floor...

Who is your third roommate, and how are you dealing with it?




Saturday, February 12, 2011

What does Saint Valentine's Day mean to Jew?


“Saint Valentine's Day, commonly shortened to Valentine's Day, is an annual commemoration held on February 14 celebrating love and affection between intimate companions. The day is named after one or more early Christian martyrs, Saint Valentine, and was established by Pope Gelasius I in 500 AD. It is traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines").” [Wikepedia]

I have several hang ups about this definition, but the first thing that comes to mind is, do dudes actually think that flowers and chocolates gets them off the ‘show me the love’ hook?

And then there’s the “Saint” part, which means, “if you’re a Jew, this-saint your holiday.”  When I was a teenager and beginning to obsess over boys, I attended a Jewish private school where I was forbidden to participate in lots of fun things (like holding a boy’s hand on school property), but being excluded from Valentine’s Day – a day of love – felt like a punishment.

But once I grew up, I knew better.  I learned to see Valentine’s Day like Mother’s Day, for example, where every day should be about cherishing the people in your life that matter, and got over not celebrating it. It helped that I was married and my Jewish husband didn’t celebrate V-day either, although it did cross my mind that it was a convenient excuse not to bother with flowers and chocolates.  So the day just came and went, where together we lifted our Jewish noses in the air and sniffed, “We don’t need Valentine’s Day anyway. We pronounced our love to each other under the chuppah when we got married. We’re done!” (Note: spell-check corrected “chuppah” to “chopped liver.”)

And when I later became single for the first time in my 30’s, Valentine’s Day didn’t come up at all - I would go out with my single friends on February 14th and not feel bad about it.  And when my ex-cub and I dated on and off for two years, we somehow managed to break up between January and April, so I didn’t acknowledge the date then either.

But this February is unfolding differently, at least according to my horoscope (if I referenced the correct one) and the exciting changes in my life. Yes, there’s the new boyfriend, who while Christian, doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day for different reasons.  We’ve only been dating for two or three months, so I don’t expect much, and wouldn't really know what to “do” with it anyway. So we are going to stay in, and I will eat chocolate (which is no different than any other day).

But what I am trying to get to the heart of here, is love and gratitude. It may be a coincidence, but this month has proven to be full of both. My essay was published by Simon & Schuster in a beautiful anthology called “Live and Let Love,” in time for Valentine’s Day. It celebrates women who have triumphed over incredible hardships, and whose hearts bloomed as a result.  

And, I fell in love (is declaring this on my blog a bigger deal than a Facebook status change?). And due to timing and keeping myself open, I landed a job I’m thrilled about.

Perhaps it was these events that changed my outlook, or perhaps I was headed that way anyway, but I noticed that suddenly I’m channeling positive feelings akin to love.  When I meet new people, I don’t snub them (I hope), or experience apathy the way I used to. I make a point to respond to every email I get, be it from acquaintances or strangers (save the occasional weirdo), and try not to get irritated when people don’t do the same.  I assume that people have good intentions, even when they don’t’ always act that way, because I figure they must be going through some shit I know nothing about. 

I also realize that I’m moody, and that this feeling of love and gratitude is fragile and transient, so I’m going to celebrate it for as long as it fills me… which might just happen to include Valentine's Day.



Sunday, February 6, 2011

Do good things come in threes?


2011 is off to a good start, and although I’m not superstitious, I’m wary putting my achievements down in writing, so allow me to leave out some details. After close to four years at my job, I’m moving on. When I moved back to NYC after my divorce four years ago, the job was a godsend, and provided me with much needed stability in the midst of a lot of uncertainty.  I also began my relationship with my ex-cub then too, as well as my novel, and both those things are now behind me. The job was the one remnant of that transitional period of my life, and my departure marks a true new start.

A friend who congratulated me on my new job, as well as on an essay of mine that’s been published in an anthology – my first time in print - remarked that good things come in threes, and that I’m due for one more. But I think that third thing already happened: my new relationship. This is my first time in what feels like a mature, balanced and loving relationship that is developing on a healthy course. But unlike the new job, and my published piece, this third “thing” is not a thing. It is a living and ever changing dynamic between two people whose form can shift – or evaporate – on a dime.

There’s a big difference between setting goals that are dependent and manifest themselves in tangible form, like the goal to write a book, get a new job, or purchase a new home. It’s entirely another when it involves another person, with their own hopes, dreams, needs and quirks. And making plans and decisions for a potential future with that person poses an even larger challenge, and requires a different set of introspective tools.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my new boyfriend is not only not Jewish, but he is a practicing Christian. I’m not surprised, nor should I be, that as the relationship progresses down a path towards the future, this potential hurdle comes into view.  On a regular day, as I inhabit the micro-bubble of my life, at work and dinner with friends and spending time with him, I can remain blissfully unaware of what looms in front of us. But when I step out of my little world and go home to see my family, for example, our differences become more prominent. 

I went home to see my parents, sisters, and my nieces and nephew for Shabbat dinner this weekend. They all know about my new man, and are happy that I’m happy. But I can tell that my mother is worried, as is my brother-in-law who is a Rabbi.  My last boyfriend wasn’t Jewish either, but he fell into the atheist category –he didn’t observe or feel a connection to his religion and would have probably taken my lead should we have had a family together. This guy, is clearly different. It’s also what I love about him. His values, his sense of family and spirituality, and the importance he places on living a life of meaning, echo my own. But I suspect (since we haven’t discussed it yet) that he is going to want to include certain practices in his life when he has a family.  But will I? What compromises am I willing to make, and what, if any, will he? What if he wants to baptize his children, go to church, and have a Christmas tree in the house?  I’ve never been in this position before, and if I were to peer at my life from the outside, I’d say that once again, I’m being tested. Or perhaps it’s my Jewish identity- my faith- that I’m being forced to confront, at a critical juncture in my adult life.

I already married the Jewish guy, whose upbringing was almost identical to mine. Sure, it made a lot of things easy, but being able to check those boxes on the “good match” list didn’t override all the other mismatched qualities.  Now, for the first time, I feel as if I met someone who fits, by virtue of all the tiny intangible things that connect us. Is religion a deal breaker for me? Am I being forced to figure this out now, having gotten away with not having had to before? Perhaps this man has come into my life for this purpose. Perhaps I have some unfinished J business to tend to.

I told Mom about a producer who is taking over my job, who has a Jewish name. “Is she Jewish?” Mom asked. “Yes,” I said. “She’s not only Jewish, she speaks Hebrew. And she’s a lesbian.” I paused then asked, only half joking: “Who would you rather I bring home for Shabbat dinner, a Jewish lesbian, or a non-Jewish guy?” The long silence that followed this question, answered it.  

I was also told that what I think I want now will change when I have kids. I don’t contest that fact.  It’s true that even though I don’t observe or practice any Jewish rituals on my own, I might decide that I want to when I have a family. But what if I decide that l don’t?  My biggest lesson, and my new philosophy in life, born out of having made a lot of poor decisions under pressure or based on others expectations – is that I cannot make decisions today based on hypotheticals - based on what I might feel two or ten years from now. That kind of thinking has led me astray in the past, and I don’t trust it.

When I came back into the city after being immersed in cultural observances and my family’s expectations, I noticed a faint anxiety had emerged in my stomach.  It was difficult to discern whether a legitimate concern had cropped up for me after being with my family, because of my beliefs, or whether I had contracted my family’s concerns. At 38 years old, worrying about what your family thinks and allowing it to cloud your judgment is concern enough.

But I’m not surprised. I’m taking solace in the fact that at least I am registering all of these things honestly, with my eyes wide open. It’s all I can do.

So am I due for a third bit of good news, or have I already received it? My relationship is a work in progress, and I have no idea how things are going to play out from here. I guess I just have to go with it. What do you guys think?