interstellar

When I was four, I kept having dreams that I could fly. I asked how I might be able to achieve that and when I clarified via description that by fly I meant float, I was told, “astronaut.” So for several years I wanted to be an astronaut.

Then when I was six or seven my mom attempted to explain–because I asked–how time would warp at the kind of speeds we would likely be talking about come the kind of serious space travel that wasn’t possible yet but should be soon, and how what would pass as a year for me could be fifty on earth. When I finally grasped it I was horrified. “You mean I could leave for a year and…and you’d be dead?” I asked. “I’d be long in the ground,” she replied. “You could leave and I’d be dead?” “No, you’d probably just…have grandchildren, maybe. Great-grandchildren.”

I saw her fascination with books like Contact and made her promise never, ever to leave me like that. I had nightmares of her disappearing and me seeing her again when I had a cane–looking just like my mom the way I knew her, but she was now younger than me. I would shoot down the hall in the middle of the night like a rocket and fling myself into my parents’ bed, wordlessly sniffling until I fell back into uneasy sleep. When Flight of the Navigator came on TV I turned it off as soon as Fred Savage’s family finds him, his baby brother now almost out of high school and his parents in tears. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. Years of your life shouldn’t be torn away from you like that, away from others.

And, man, you can imagine my reaction to this.

So this new Interstellar trailer has me wobbly already:

Every time he says he’s coming back I want to howl.

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forehead kisses

Yesterday, seeking to do anything other than what I had to, I engaged in my once-every-six-months fandom Pinterest trawl. Unfortunately, due to the way it repins images and the pre-existing comments, finding a static link for a comment is not easy. But at some point if you are searching for Doctor Who on Pinterest, you’ll find some picture of Matt Smith with the comment “still can’t tell if he’s really good looking, or if i just love the doctor.”

I love that someone said this.

Not because it’s worth pursuing as an actual argument vis-a-vis Matt Smith. (Full disclosure: mmm.) But because it points to the question of where we ground our attraction, and whether we can even discern where that is. The only time I ever won money for a piece I wrote, it hinged on this question: can I separate what I find attractive in your body from what I find attractive in your mind, your demeanor, the way you approach the world? Do I even know where my approval of one part of you ends and the other part begins? Does it even make sense that I should? Should anyone?

I suppose the knee-jerk answer is either “well obviously” or the more defensive “none of your business.” But I’m not asking this to pantomime some affection court where we get to decide whose feelings are legitimate. I’m honestly interested in whether people can sort out their attractions–because “it’s just something about them” just doesn’t cut it with me. What is it about them? Specifically? It behooves us to know something about what moves us in other people, surely.

Again, I have no interest in actually engaging in a discussion of whether this or that physical quality is of merit (to each his own after all), but to continue with the previous example: at what point did I start thinking “oh damn, doctor” instead of thinking “well, I guess I’ll keep watching this show everyone’s talking about?”

foreheadkiss

Forehead kisses.

Forehead kisses are a huge deal for me. Why? Personal history or something broader? The forehead kisses I have received in adult life are all extremely memorable, and likely influence the surge of chest-ache I feel when the doctor makes his move. What’s the deal then? Sure, forehead kisses in pop culture tend not to lead to sex, but then “it doesn’t lead to sex” is an awfully empty way to ascribe value to a gesture. One imagines that certain individuals would likely read it that way, but that’s a shallow reading. It’s, not, then, just that “it doesn’t lead to sex” that makes the Doctor’s forehead kisses so damn endearing. It’s that–maybe?–you’re using a part of your body routinely limited to expressions of sexuality by media and culture, in a way that acknowledges affection without demanding action upon it. In the real world–not just the one cooked up by films–you use your mouth for food, speech, and sex. All rather essential things in life, no? And yet forehead kisses take nothing in, silence the kisser (not the kissee!), and by their very location distance themselves from reciprocation. They’re asking nothing in return.

–which I wince even to type, because again it sounds like you can oversimplify that back to the Redditor’s likely accusation of “something for nothing.” No, no, and no. I even know women–I may even be related to women–who would stop there and say “yep, that’s what I want–constant adoration, because I am a goddamn princess.” That’s not what I’m talking about. Look, as an adult, you know that people want to stick their stuff in other people. Some more than others, but still: somewhere inside most (not all, but most) bodies is a little voice yelling “stick it! nom on that! om nom nom! it comes in pints!” And that has the potential to get old. The fact that of all the things you bring to the table, “stick it!” is the voice that cries loudest, eventually, in the bodies of others, in response to you. Not “glomp it!” or “inspire it!” or “be moved by it!” But just stick it. Even if you listen to that voice yourself, you know you have more important shit to do on this planet. And eventually you may wish to want to a clamor of voices saying something else sometimes. On occasion. Maybe.

Which is where forehead kisses come in. Because they are a very physical bestowing of tenderness that either comes from the “stick it!” voice with the acceptance that no one shall be sticking it anywhere (which can be attractive in its own way, what with the violation of taboos, clandestine attraction, etc. etc.), or from a place actually suffused with non-sexual affection. It may be that not knowing which is at play in the Doctor’s kisses are whey they’re so damn hot. The unknown.

Ultimately I will have to rewatch season five, which I (along with the rest of the world, I know), loved so much, to make more of a timely observation of this. The first time around I was too involved with the plot to pay much attention to my reactions, but I do recall the forehead kisses and–in particular–(SPOILER!) the one near the end where the Doctor comes back, having seemingly just left off the other side of the screen, to kiss Amy on the forehead when her eyes are pinched shut surrounded by angels who will kill her if she opens them. I remembered very well that kiss from the first time we saw it, and remembered my outrage–“What are you doing, leaving her there, you fool? If you are so worried about her why the hell are you abandoning her to this?” The kiss seemed so at odds with the callousness with which he was in fact abandoning her in a deathtrap. And then to circle back to that and explain–going through all the rips we’ve watched all season–that it seemed at odds because it was, because he made that kiss with more knowledge and sorrow than the version of him who just left yet possessed–that sent bells clanging in my chest like no one’s business. I am a hopeless sucker for cyclical storytelling, especially as unfurled by formerly unexplained or confusing acts of affection. And the Doctor brings it in spades.

So no, imaginary accusatory Redditor, it’s not that we want something for nothing, or a silent vow of chastity imparted with lips. It’s that it is nice to know sometimes that other voices–those marveling at who we’re becoming or mourning with us as we lose someone dear–can drown out the perpetual voice demanding you stick it somewhere. And too often, that’s the only voice you let speak.

cultural signposts : jackie kashian

Ha!

I had started, two days ago, to write this post in my head. I put it off because I didn’t know how I could make years of annual show attendance, podcasts and Twitter and  Facebook feed updates coelesce into the portrait of a person you should know about, in a way that portrayed neither of us as mere trend blips.

But then she went and wrote this post and pretty much did it for me.

Seriously, there it all is, right there. Everything I would have said about her she says herself, much more approachably–being, rather obviously, more approachable, as someone who puts herself out there loud and hilarious instead of writing on an anonymous blog all the time–than I ever could.

The only things I can add, then, are personal and thus by default of much less consequence. But here goes:

I don’t look up to a lot of women. I recognize that that is a problem. I have recognized that that is a problem for some time. But I still haven’t fixed it. I keep coming up with reasons for it–higher standards? some sort of projected dissatisfaction with myself?–but they all tend to lean toward the apeishly overanalyzed. I don’t know why it is, then, that I look up to so few women. If you asked me to name men I respected (but more than that, really–whose opinions I value and take into account, more like) I could name plenty. They tend to be writers, but still–there are plenty. Women? That’s harder. Cheryl Strayed. There’s one. I feel like through her writing I know enough about her to legitimately give a shit about what she thinks. A.L. Kennedy’s writing I remember thinking was fantastic but only in a descriptive way–not in a way that I felt was speaking for me. David Mitchell, Ian McEwan, David Foster Wallace (deal with it)–when I am affected by what they write it’s because I recognize the world they describe; I live in it. But too often I appreciate the work of women from a technical perspective but not a shared emotional one. The way they describe existing in the world isn’t the way I exist in it.

Well, not so Jackie Kashian. Obviously, seen here, she writes, but I’m more familiar with her stand-up. My husband tended bar for years in a comedy club where she was at least an annual if not a semi-annual event. The first Friday he saw her he said I had to show up Saturday; that I’d love her, and it’s true–I did. She has the unstudied groundedness and humor of half a dozen charismatic female teachers whose praise I pined after as a kid and knew I’d never receive, as the too-quiet shy girl with too-little stage presence. My husband wanted me to meet her after the show; I flatly refused because people who are good with people like that, they can smell the lurkers. And I didn’t want to stink up the room. But still, the way she deals with all those sniveling, sweating bros–both at the show but everywhere else too–the rude, abusive, sexist, threat-happy hulks who barrel through life like we’re there to get run over–just delighted me. That’s not what her comedy is about, but it’s there all the same, underneath the jokes about games and geeks and being a lady comic in a very man-centric gig. And she wasn’t bitter or mean or hokey. Even though the bullshit she puts up with–so casually! touching on it so lightly, as part of a joke!–is stuff I recognize too well. Even though she does it for a living, likely seeing way more of it on the road and in the green rooms than (I hope) I ever will. She sees all this nastiness and she still loves what she does, what she is good at doing–finding a kernal of shared hilarity inside even the sweating judgmental drunks in the front row and spritzing some comedic Miracle Gro on it and turning even douchebags into shared comrades in jokedom.

That is so powerful, the ability to make comrades out of strangers, even for a moment. If I had that power I’d never stop using it. And she hasn’t either! But yet here, in that article linked above, she isn’t always joking. And she says more there, even indirectly, than I ever could directly here about why she is a damn good person to look up to. So get on that, people.

racing religion

Last week I clocked a mile 41 seconds faster than my fastest mile in high school.

Afterward my lungs felt liked I’d been punched in the chest, but still. I am no sprinter. I was pleased.

The best part, though, even after so piddly a distance as that, is never the time, for me. Unless it’s the first week or so after I ran it (or, clearly, if it was the number attached to me on a high school track team), I tend to have to look it up when someone asks me my marathon PR, or to compare it with my former PR. I have enough numbers ruling my life that I cannot escape; the running I choose to do in my free time will not devolve into mere digits emblazoned on the inside of my eyelids.

The best part, instead, is the feeling you get a few days after a major exertion, when your body is starting to heal enough that you feel something other than sore, and you roll up onto the balls of your feet to wrestle with your dog and realize that, yes, those things are your legs. Those things that feel (however overconfidently) like you could do this or this or this. It’s a moment of strength.

It’s a moment of strength, but of physical strength, which it had made sense all my life to distrust, question and scorn. Because even from the earliest age you are told it doesn’t last; that nothing physical does–your elders saying how much more energy you young whelps have than they do now, advertisements despairing about wrinkles and singing the praises of plastic surgery, studies latching onto the diets of this or that ethnic group, trying to mine the secrets of their vitality. I know everyone knows of these things and chooses to see them or to not see them in terms linking them to the decline of society. But I deliberately chose to define myself chiefly with words and nothing physical, nothing tied to my body, because as everyone makes so abundantly clear from the moment you’re old enough to understand them, that won’t last. I thought that if I made myself matter to people because of what I wrote rather than what I weighed or lifted or ran, I could defy the decay attached to failing bones and bad hips and just the general decline that everyone is so set on bewailing all the time.

Even now, actively pursuing a sport (though I may not participate in it as a serious competitor) that calls on my muscles and bones to perform, I am distrustful of it. I am wary of taking so much  joy in a thing that the perfectly plausible sudden loss of that thing–whether due to temporary or permanent injury, or weather incompatibility and the lack of funds for a gym membership–could render hopelessly beyond my reach. I am wary of enjoying my body because I am reminded every day through the blaring foghorn of media focus that it will head downhill. Is already heading downhill. Was always heading downhill. Hell, maybe The Watch by Rick Bass just stuck with me too much.

But of course–if it didn’t always circle back to this I wouldn’t always bring it up–circumstances in my family make somewhat difficult the perpetuation of the illusion that we will all remain in good-natured possession of our full metal faculties until our respective passings. If Rick Bass’s character in The Watch was driven over he edge by the loss of his ability to race, how much worse the occasional lapse into clarity of the dementia patient who used to write novels or surgically-targeted reviews? If I spend my life assiduously avoiding putting time into, or taking pride in, whatever my body can accomplish, constructing instead an identity entirely wrapped up in words and their tactical deployment at key points in time, am I really averting anything? Am I really protecting myself any more than if I took pleasure in both the physical and the mental capacities we are born with, and build upon to the best of our abilities, even knowing that both will ultimately collapse?

Well, I’m still running, so obviously I’ve arrived at my answer. I suppose this is the point at which many people turn to organized religion, and despite the catastrophe writ large in the news every day by organized religion I try to remind myself that seeking that kind of communal affirmation of one’s beliefs isn’t to be derided. But I ask your leave to understand how one’s body and mind, and one’s willingness to put time and value into either, is something more personal than it seems to me any abstract association of fables coupled with centuries of top-down factional warfare should ever be able to affect.

Once, the man who became my husband described to me once a conversation he had with his best friend as teenagers in the throes of teenage religiosity. They were talking of having children and the friend said how he’d want to take his child to the seashore for the first time and show him the expanse of sea and sky and say to him, “Look, look what God made!” And my husband replied, but isn’t the sea and sky enough? Why do you have to bring a god into it? Isn’t the great sweep of all that magnificence enough? At which point in the telling, unbeknownst to him, I decided I could love this man for the rest of my life.

When I read Natalie Stavas’s story of her Boston finish this year, I reminded myself that she had been through much. That she was physically and mentally exhausted, and that she’d seen things happen to people that I hope never to see secondhand much less to experience myself. But despite these precautions I was unable to grind to dust a tiny seed of disappointment when I read of her finish line religious conviction. Because you sell us all so short with your need to ascribe what is great in the world to something else, some nebulous being you can then assign likes and dislikes to as your governing body dictates. Granted, you saw mankind at its worst, ripping each other apart with tiny bits of ordinary objects–but I don’t just mean mankind here. I don’t mean the people pouring intact across the finish line, or the people cheering them, or the doctors putting those ripped to pieces last year back together.

I mean everything. Sky, stars, wilderness…running and the ability to run. To write. To laugh. Must you attribute the greatness of these things to something else? Something other than the stuff of which it’s made? Wind and sunlight; blood cells and good feeling? If we get to be responsible, morally and spiritually, for the ripping of each other to pieces, can we not also be responsible for the reconstruction, the celebration? Must it belong to something else?

The reason I signed up for my tiny little one-mile race wasn’t practice or a sudden desire to run really short distances really fast: it was its location. It didn’t shuffle off to the side of town or to a neighboring village; it planted itself right in the heart of the place I’d called home for years. The place where my adult life had begun and where most of it had occurred since. Just before the turnaround, dodging around a gash in the pavement still left from winter’s plowing, I realized that I was running right over the spot where I’d been hit by a jeep nine years ago. He had run his light, and I was pedaling along on my bike trying not to be late for work, and he plowed into me. The bike was totaled, but I leaped off, and while I momentarily dislocated my arm in the leap, I got away (walked away, in shock and embarrassed, refusing an ambulance and only later going to the hospital when my arm seized up) with only a few bruises to my legs, and a broken bicycle. It was here, I thought wheezing over the spot, remembering my mother’s fury when she discovered I’d failed to mention getting hit by a car, while not wearing a helmet, until I’d already been to the doctor. I could’ve died here. I was young and stupid and helmet-less and could’ve easily been rendered paralyzed or a vegetable or dead, had I not jumped away, or caught myself once I jumped. It was right here. I ran faster.

But when I crossed that finish line my thoughts weren’t for someone’s idea of a god; or of my next race; or even of my mom, the imaginary curing of whose disease I sometimes fantasize will be my reward, if I can only run faster than that truck or train or other runner. My thoughts were only two words: I’m alive. And it was enough.

afterimage

After my latest big-city journey I have begun to have nightmares again of being returned to Japan. Of course in the interim I have acquired the unnecessary and unhelpful tendency to cry silently in my sleep, so I send no queues that scream “wake me up, for godsake!” I get to pry my gluey eyes open as the only conscious creature taking big shuddery breaths in the drizzly pre-dawn gloom. This is the third time in two weeks.

I no longer tell people what my experience was like, really. Enough time has passed that I’ve developed a lively alternate history, complete with gimmicky culture clashes and quaint anecdotes. They are things that happened, but isolated out of context, with most of the negative–the loneliness, the fury, the sexual assault–omitted. The last time I tried to tell someone how much I hated it–without going into explicit detail because I had my pride–he said something thoughtlessly conciliatory like “maybe you should be over this already” and I exploded at him and he ceased talking to me.

So I don’t try anymore.

In this dream, a white guy in doffed suspenders and a muscle shirt stood on a corner beneath the JR line playing a guitar for tips. Women were jockeying like hyenas to get at him. I slunk past on the verge, attempting to make my down the street (to pay a second rent? because some obtuse legal corollary had roped me into needing to pay two somehow?) but he called out to me, accusing me of bitchface and asserting that I should cheer up, I was in fucking Tokyo! “Yeah, Tokyo!” I pantomimed back at him, mimicking his tone of amazement and wonder, at which point he shoved the women around him aside to come after me shaking his guitar, saying I didn’t understand because I couldn’t make music out of anything, and that if I had the means to do so I wouldn’t be such a bitch.

At which point I whirled on him, in the ridiculously overstated manner of dream logic, clutching a guitar of my own and yelling, “I have one, all right?! And all I want to do is hit people with it!”

–which in itself would have been a tear-free end of a dream, but of course it couldn’t end there. I had to end up in some plasticene cell for being unable to pay my two rents, bellowing that they had to let me out because the pill the only professor who was kind to me (and who was dying of cancer) needed, and which cost 1,000,000 yen each, was in my pocket, because he had attempted to help me move before the authorities caught up with me for my lack of funds, during which efforts he dropped his pill in my jumbled apartment. I was, predictably, dismissed as some raving foreigner saying anything to get what she wanted, and the professor died quietly on the other side of town, in a great deal of pain, when I had the means to stave it off in my hands, useless.

And of course, because no sundae would be complete without this cherry on top, he hadn’t even been my professor–I’d sought him out because I’d seen a flyer on campus advertising his efforts to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s. So not only was I losing my only friend, but also–as far as my dream self know–the only chance I had at saving my mom.

It was great, really. Just fantastic. A real cultural smorgasbord and eye-opening experience. Learned lots about myself!

unmoored

There is a trailer now for the movie version of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. I have watched it six times, and decided to reread the book between now and December 5th–146 days from now, during which period everyone who hasn’t read the book should read it. But I am unsure how I will attend the movie with others. I can only do it if they are under strict instructions not to pat, squeeze, cuddle, hug, offer tissues, or in any way acknowledge the mess that my face will become. I will not suffer the condolences of the unmoved.

Or the moved.

Or anyone, really.

If you are curious, the song in this trailer is by Beck. Beck. The guy I associate mostly with Devils Haircut or, at best, the saddest song in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Since when did he go all Elliott Smith on us? Or, well, Elliott Smith, minus the depression? Morning Phase is wonderful*. As a set piece, front-to-back. Who even does that anymore?

*mostly

window seat

plane

I never get it. When young, and my parents bought the plane tickets, they planted me on the aisle–a fact which I resented right up until I needed to use a restroom and had to clamber over zero people to do so. Nowadays, when I’m the one buying, it costs money to choose where you sit, so I don’t–which means I’m usually mashed between two strangers somewhere near the wings.

This time, however, fate plopped me by a window, late at night, surrounded by passengers dozing under blankets and cocooned in neck-wrap pillows. On high alert from my previous flight, during which most passengers and flight attendants had become pretty rightfully convinced they were about to die, I was doing no sleeping. I remained vigilant as great heaps of clouds whipped themselves into the likenesses of Mufasa and then shot themselves through with lightning. In contrast to the flight out, which had–perhaps because it occurred at dawn, over country flooded with sunlight and thus devoid of the pinpricks of light signifying human life–seemed like a four-hour sojourn over a desolate moonscape, the return flight seemed to hug closer to the ground, and always provided some faint streak of human settlement to set the mind at ease. I didn’t know why, exactly, it was so comforting to see the lights below–I could plummet to a fiery death in someone’s backyard just as easily as I could atop a remote crag–but it was.

Then, hours later, when idly watching the sparkling lights beneath me and realizing with a jolt that I knew the curve of that highway, the grid of those streets, and watching what had been a charmingly vague landscape click into scintillating familiarity, I figured it out. This was the top-down view of next to every game I’d ever loved. Civ, Pirates, Age of Empires, Powermonger, The Settlers, every Sim-thing known to man. All of them let you step back to his level of knowing.

Because that is what makes it magical. It isn’t a godly sense of parental affection–I’ve boxed as many sims into doorless sheds, and sent as many stalwart armies to their certain doom, as the next person. It’s not the power of that view that is affecting–or at least, not the active power exercised from that level.

It’s that the boundaries of the world are known. You see them, up there, in a way that forever escapes you down below. The borderlines of mountains, the fullness or dryness of rivers, the color urban sprawl takes on as it tints the green out of the landscape as it spreads…the smallness of things. It’s a terribly trite sentiment but it doesn’t feel so much to me, since I rarely fly and am next to never on a floor high enough on a building to appreciate the spread of the surrounding territory. But there is a passive power in seeing next to every place you’ve lived, loved, striven and struggled for the past ten years laid out below you, and to see how incredibly small that space you’ve taken up is. That is it. All you’ve felt in your life over this past decade has been felt, by and large, in and among those tiny lights. And the same goes for everyone else down there. All of your lives fit between those two rivers it takes you 45 minutes to drive between on the ground–and both of which you can see, from up here, glimmering faintly in the light of the surrounding cities. “You can see it from up here, guys!” I wanted to yell as I winged over and away from my town. “You think your life is so full but you can see everywhere you go from this one spot! All of your experience is a tiny puddle on this map! There are whole deserts, whole mountain ranges your life doesn’t even touch!”

I am easily moved by maps and landscapes, but you can get the same sort of boundary-knowledge chronologically, in books and movies like Cloud Atlas and Inception. Here, we receive knowledge in the inverse, having become acquainted and comfortable with, even fond of the limits of one world or experience, before being pulled into another, broader one, that still seeks to contain the former. This is where I think people who pooh-pooh fiction, in any form, are doing themselves an injustice: because except for tiny happenstance moments where you recognize the smallness of your daily paths from the bird’s-eye view of an airplane’s window, or (I am told) in the hour or so after you hold your first child, you are by and large not granted much of a vantage point from which to survey your own life. You’re down among the lights. So fiction, be it a game about lost empires reborn, or a book about empires yet to come, or a movie about the tangled empires warring for domination in our own brains, gives you more of a chance than ever your life will to realize your own smallness. And, perhaps, to act on it.

“Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides… I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life’s voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”