Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Snow Lies

I could have made a decent paycheck this week if I could only have agreed to blog the Academy Awards.  Of course, they don't particularly care that I have haven't seen any of the nominated movies--- not a single one, except maybe a documentary because I actually was conscripted to attend a random screening by the filmmaker.  But these are movies not films.  The difference, to me, being the hype and promotion, the 'blow-up' factor.

It's hard for me to diagnose the exact cause of my movie-going malaise.  It could be my age, or the fact that after seeing thousands upon thousands of these-- they become a little cheap-- like a roller coaster ride, over and over.  It's terrifying or amazing, but in the end, we can only remember maybe the first time-- or the time someone threw up on you.  Like I remember a movie-date, when I really liked the guy… or making out with my husband, because that's what we did at the movies.  But I was young.

And of course I won't venture the theory that these movies are not, besides the sensational trailer campaigns and the celebrity overkill, what we used to call 'memorable'.  That they don't resonate in the way that 'On the Waterfront' or 'The Hustler' did… the way these actors used to 'be' their characters… that try as I might, with a few exceptions, I just see celebrities.

I did try to watch the show.  I noticed things like the camera focusing on black people in the audience to compensate for the fact that there was hardly a minority face among the high-profile nominees.  Maybe that explains the Birdman wins?  A Mexican director?  Who knows?

What I did think about was the fact that our television sets, in my day, were black and white boxes.  Actors were miniaturized and the format was square.  The resolution was not great.  The larger the set, the less clarity.  So the movies were larger than life, colored-- you could see  places you might never visit, you could scrutinize the imperfect and breathtakingly passionate face of Richard Burton and you knew you would never ever be these people or these characters and it was stunning.

Maybe 25 years ago I was invited to the home of some prep-school parents who liked musicians.  Not only did they have a complete 24-track studio and rows of guitars no one could really play, but they had their own private screening room.  It was a mini-cinema with leather reclining chairs like first class airline seats.  The speakers were surround-sound and the screen was cinema-scale.  They had some kind of expensive format projector or who knows?  A movie collection.  Of course, like the other 'playrooms' in the house,  including a simulated ski-ing machine with visual moving slopes, it was immaculate and empty.  Everything at their fingertips, these people--pushbuttons and electronic wonderment-- and they were hardly ever home.  Their kids were brats.

My Thanksgiving tradition includes my son coming over to sleep and eat and binge on sports and this year, he begged me to splurge on a new TV.  I have no cellphone, and had an old, small box.  It was getting to the point where even the sports scores were 'off-screen' because my set didn't accommodate the format.  So we got a black Friday spectacular 42-inch screen for very little money… and after my brief adjustment period I have only just begun to 'see' what others have been seeing on their high-def technology for years.  It's pretty spectacular… the visual… clearer than clear.  When my son calls me from a Knicks game, I can see him waving.  Amazing.

But one thing I have noticed-- the lines between cinema and television are blurring.  It is so symptomatic of our culture now-- people with their palatial apartments and oversized homes-- that now we all have a private screening room… and 4 million movies available to us at all times.  I still have my Time Warner triple play--- I don't want HBO and I don't want to be addicted to TV.  I haven't watched a  single Breaking Bad or Madmen episode or even Downton Abbey…I like the randomness of TV, and now that we all have a cinematic format and video quality--- and everyone from Apple to Amazon to your neighbor is producing 'television'… movies are marketed like anything which is cheap and downloadable and viewable on phones while you have a bath.  Or drive in your SUV and cause accidents…whatever.  Everyone has everything everywhere, like a rich person.  And it feels cheap.

Does anyone remember being in love--- really in love?  Not the kind you will marry or possess because it doesn't work that way, but the kind where you are overcome with passion and you 'lift' out of your own body and you are possessed and then there you are, the 2 of you, in some bed somewhere which you will remember for the rest of your life, where you lie  awake because it is your own movie and you need to press this into your heart forever, where you are aware you have slept with some kind of angel, and you have been touched or maybe ruined forever, but it is real.  And maybe this will last for days or weeks or months or maybe years.  Maybe it will come and go, will weave in and out of your life, like a cosmic glowing thread of light, maybe you will become pregnant and bear its child… but it will not stay.  And in the hours or days or weeks, between those episodes, love happens.  You do not text, because that was not available.  You don't even telephone, because you are under a spell, and the technology of even a wire and a receiver-- it seems well, awkward.  You might write a letter and post it, and it will take weeks before you even know it is received, if ever.  You might get a tiny box in the mail with a hand-rolled cigarette or a pressed flower, or a fortune from an old cookie… and it will be from him.  But it is in the space which surrounds these moments--- that the experience becomes something.

In art, space is essential--- real art, that is.  It is what you leave out that is important.  Now, we have no space.  Even my oversized flatscreen during the Academy Awards is crammed with finery and entertainment… thousands of beautiful people and too much music, and film, and live people-- the actors, reminding us that everything is not really art, but a 'layer', an investment, a trick.  People are maybe not really crying, even… we see these little cameos and it is confusing… it is just too much.   In a way it is like massive quantities of food without digestion.  It is all too much.  Everyone is dressed in loaned gowns and the after and before-shows insure that there is no space anywhere.  What is the meaning?

I suppose without the ball and the gown, the Prince would never have noticed Cinderella.  This is an old story.  And without the 'space' of losing her and having to try the shoe on all those girls-- he would never have found his true princess.  Maybe that explains the current obsession with shoes, the celebrity closets with a banker's salary worth of shoes.  Hoarders.

There used to be an expression… you can't have everything; where would you put it?  But now you can put it in your phone, on a chip. It's in your pocket… your money, your airline tickets, 10,000 movies.  Rich people are creating space in the New York skyline so they can own more and more, have bigger screens for their personal lives.  But this is not the kind of space they need.  They don't see that they are starving for the kind of space that they no longer understand-- the kind of space that exists while you miss someone or you want something so badly you must work seven years to have it.  Occasionally a movie director understands this, and tries to show this-- the most archetypal legend of existence-- the search, the quest…what makes us fragile and divine and raises us above our flesh and bones-- our soul peeking out of its human garbage pile of 'stuff'.

I went to a funeral for my friend on Saturday.  It was a devastating loss for me of someone who suffered from cultural under-acknowledgment because we are obsolete, we seekers of music or art or truth among the technology we can't even afford.  My niece had emailed me; a friend of hers OD'd.  I shared some of Vvedensky's Gray Notebook which I was reading.  Brutal and real.  Re: the funeral, It was so hard to see Joy in a box, I mailed her back.  She thought it was the title.  Maybe it is.

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Call It Sleep

When I was a teenager, I was sent on one of those student exchange experiments to Mexico.  On a train from Laredo to Mexico City, a handsome Andover boy who was on his way to a homestay in Guatemala crawled into my berth and we slept together... like grownups--- we were both scared I think and it made us feel like adults. He was preppy, not my type…  he'd followed me around at orientation but we were segregated in the bunkers.  It was so weird...I guess I was 15 and he was 16.    No sex-- just the intimacy of sleep.  But I remember... looking out the window at this strange desert and the night was cold and his arms around me in the thin wool blanket-- his name was Steve Pearson.  We never spoke. I felt like those pioneer girls must have felt with an arranged marriage-- the first night of a cheap honeymoon. 

Something so cinematic and archetypal about trains… the endless film reel of passing landscape, the rhythmic wheels on the track, the unbearable lonesome solo of sunset whistles.  I often dream of them, of trainsleep… of railroad bridges and tunnels and leaving home and waving goodbye to things you will never see again, secrets you will leave behind, love that you have moved away from, or that has moved away from you.  A cliche'd but poetic sense of distance.  

My niece is suffering from insomnia.  Insomnia, I tell her, is a state of mind.  It is the delusion that you must be sleeping when you are awake.  All of us sleep at some time; some of us are rebels and don't want to be regulated.  Read.  Poetry is good.  Try a train, I tell her… but she will undoubtedly be looking at her instagram and texting her friends instead of watching the moon rise over an endless black river.  

Train accidents seem horrific.  The long fragile chain of cars crashing one after the other seems almost more innocently violent than a car or plane crash.  One of the victims of the Metro North crash this week was the curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  He had studied and written extensively about Vermeer--- the painter who understood white like no other.  I pray he was dreaming in a 17th century interior, wrapped in Vermeer-colored sheets, and was not frightened and suffocated to death, this man who dedicated his life to the subject of beauty and who threatened to leave his position if the Metropolitan Museum made even a single move to acquire even one piece from the bankrupt Detroit Institute of the Arts.  He looked a bit timeless and removed from another century; he'd said that he treasured the traditional trip back and forth from country to city on the train.  

Generally I go to bed at dawn, with no schedule, when the pull of fatigue overwhelms.  For me the sleep of winter is a deep, slow tunnel of Vermeer whites and far-off whistles.  I have given up on feverish passion and watched the fires of ambition burn off to glowing embers.  Insomnia is a thwarted love, a tossing and turning that no longer possesses me.  A sting of guilt or regret or a debt someone fears will be collected while we are vulnerable.  There is nothing more vulnerable than a person asleep; it is the very essence of innocence and trust.  Maybe this is my niece's problem; she has failed to lock her emotional door.  Things have happened to all of us while we slept.  Sometimes our predators insist we dreamed these nightmares; sometimes we have.  This is the stuff of fairytales and myths.  How many of those Greek gods visited beautiful human girls and made love to them while they slept, or turned them into creatures or stars.  

What always surprised me, reading my little books of myths and tales before I went to sleep, or reading the same ones to my little boy,  was why these gods-- who could have and could be anything they wanted-- were envious of men, with all our petty faults and our mortality.  They still wanted what we had, or they wanted to sleep with the women, or possess them, or father their children.  It made them human, or flawed, even though they were gods.  Our grass seemed greener than their paradise, and our snow whiter.  Or they craved our flaws, our dirt, our human pain and the funk of failure.  Our need for sleep.  

The night of the train crash, on the way home at 3 AM I came across a pool of fresh blood on a snowy bank.  Even by the mercury streetlight, I could see that it was human blood, not an innocent animal.  At first I felt weak… then something in me took over, and I began thinking about Adolph Gottlieb-- Sam Francis…Malevich.  The mind of an artist can be brutal.  But maybe that is the point.  Compassion is not always helpful.  We must make something of what is; we go on: sleep or no sleep, pain or no pain; snow or rain or bitter cold-- living our dream and dreaming our lives.

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