Dodged a(nother) bullet in spite of myself.

I was recently involuntarily disentangled from a curious situation. The situation became curiouser and curiouser for no real reason save for a total black hole of communication. Things went from 24-7 contact to…. *crickets*. Worse than a clear choice to step away and hold his tongue for a bit was the complete (read: obviously intentional) refusal to reply to a simply (although eventually less simple) inquiry: What is going on? I did not (do not) want to be that kind of girl who is all freaky, and neurotic (at least about this kind of shit). Just because I wanted to be treated like the “friend” I was supposed to be does not make me some freaky fatal attraction type of person:

I am not that kind of girl.

Initially, I told no one about any of this, the original entanglement nor the ensuing crazy-making disentanglement. But after 40 days and 40 nights (approximately) I and to tell someone what had happened. I told my girl E about it. And as I told the story, I realized that I was not the asshole here. That in fact, I had been dealing with someone who pretends to be a really nice guy – and may be a nice guy someway somehow – but is so fucked up and broken that he is, actually, quite an asshole. As I went into the details, E was like, ‘Come on! What a jerk…’ and the like, as your friends are supposed to do. But in saying out loud what I had experienced, it became clear, that I was not crazy, or weird, or inappropriate (well, at least in this case) and that in fact, he was someone far too messed up to engage with on any real level and E said:

You don’t want that in your life, your life is too amazing.

I also had kept R in the loop because, well, R knows everything. He pointedly and with a barely veiled (okay, not veiled at all) sense of “are you serious” identified all the red flags I chose to overlook with Mr. Messy. ‘He said he was selling his house, did he? He said he just wanted someone to be nice to him – to love him, did you consider that that may literally be all he wanted from you? He told you all sorts of annoying things about another woman, who he incidentally lives with, didn’t that seem sort of shitty? He is involved in some kind of fucked up triangle with his ex-wife and his girlfriend who is old enough to be his mom in some states, doesn’t that seem weird to you? He told you all these things he was *going* to do, did he do any of them?’ And I had to return to one of R’s best lines of all time:

A lot of these people have complications in their lives I just do not desire.

When I eventually told me mom, she listed, in a hot minute, all the reasons I was so lucky that this was not going to go forward: kids, exes, wacky life priorities, dishonesty, mommy issues, and said:

You got lucky.

In the end, I found out several other very bizarre pieces of information that further complicated the narrative in my mind, but all led to the same conclusion: this person had done wrong by me, and in his self-professed transparency had really been letting me know all along he was doing me wrong, but I was not seeing it. My choice (or inability) to note these red flags has been the chief cause of getting aught up in crazy relationship bullshit for eons. So in this case, when divine intervention stepped in (or a nice older woman – coo coo ka choo) and prevented me from getting hit by the bullet this time, my go-to reaction was to feel like I had I had lost out on some kind of wonderful. But that is bullshit, because although no one can know what I missed out on in the hypothetical, what I missed out on in reality is a-ok.

I recently came across a line from Lena Dunham’s book in which she hopes she might stop someone from “thinking that it was your fault when the person you are dating suddenly backs aways, intimidated by the clarity of your personal mission here on earth,” and I thought, fuck yeah:

I am that kind of girl.

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Now that is funny…

I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean it. Well, I meant it, but I was so stupid that I didn’t mean what I meant… After all, it’s only a… [Facebook message]. Everyone knows… [Facebook messages] are just… full of crap. ~ Bridget Jones

I woke up this morning and I was like, “I want to write something funny.” Because, sometimes I am really funny. I wanted to remind myself of the kinds of things that make me laugh. Like, the posters my students made for me at school that are a collection of my remarks in class, which they titled, “Shit Levin Says,” and I do love a comment absent its context on occasion. And I had some ideas of some funny things to write about: most recently I was considering a catalog of actual things that actual members of the male species have said to me – context or not, definite humor potential. And in spite of things in the world as they are, and in spite of personal blogs basically being the huge pile of self-indulgent crap that they are generally, I thought, yes… back to my self-deprecating roots then, eh?

So, I turned on the devices and… Oh.Fuck.Me. A total Bridget Jones moment transpired.

This is not wholly inappropriate as I actually adore -without defense or justification- (or was that just?) Bridget Jones. And not solely for the predictable holiday rom-com ridiculousness that it perpetuates (or that there is a character called Perpetua!) But I love Bridget for the way she completely embraces her moments of abject humiliation – every single time. When you stand back and look at it, this has got to some kind of really enlightened approach to the world. Although acknowledging the circumstances, and effectively (familiarly) wallowing in them, Bridget has this ability to just be like, “Right. That sucked and am probably laughing stock of entire nation, but really, what can I do about it now?”

My particular Bridget Jones moment occurred when I realized that sent Facebook messages cannot be deleted across the board. Like, I can send them, then delete them before they have been read by someone else… but the someone else still gets them.

Oh.Fuck.Me.

Now, to be fair, I have not been being crazy, or dangerous, or doing anything that could get me fired, jailed, or excommunicated from my family. But let’s just say, I may have let my calm, cool, and collected outward appearance around my feelings about someone’s behavior towards me demonstrate a bit more desperation than I would ever, EVER want to be shared.

And you all know how calm, cool, and collected I always am.

On realizing this, and realizing that said person has very clearly seen said missives (because goddammed Facebook tells you when they were “active”), I had a moment (or 30, 40… maybe 50…) where I scoured the internets to be sure that this was the case… When I delete something, does it not delete elsewhere? What a STUPID system. Come on Facebook, help a girl out.

Rest assured, this is actually the case. And having deleted the messages, I cannot even go back and actually assess the degree to which I should be humiliated.

Oh.Fuck.Me.

But hang on a tick… It turns out that you can recover all of your Facebook data. Ha. Nice try Facebook. But, for real, you go to settings, and download the info and Facebook sends it to you as an HTML file, so technically you can relive ALL the horror. [You are welcome.]

I wouldn’t go there if I were you. [Of course I went there.] I looked. And damn, there was some crazy old shit in there.

Mother, I do not need a blind date. Particularly not with some verbally incontinent spinster who drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and dresses like her mother. ~Mark Darcy

But the messages that were filling me with turkey-curry buffet/tarts & vicars/reindeer jumper levels of angst were not really that bad. I mean, yeah, I wish I would not have sent them because I would like to be cooler at all times than I actually am… But in the end, I had a real, honest to god Bridget Jones moment, in which I looked at them, and thought to myself, “Right. You did that and it was stupid, because this person is clearly not picking up what you are putting down… But actually, all you did was be honest. And true. And so how is that so humiliating?” Oddly, for the first time I felt better about the whole stupid situation that has been plaguing me for weeks, like, it was out there now, and so be it.

I felt all zen.

I’m sure it will last until the next time.

Resolution #1: Uggg – will obviously lose 20 lbs. #2: Always put last night’s panties in the laundry basket. Equally important: will find nice sensible boyfriend and stop forming romantic attachments to any of the following: alcoholics, workaholics, sexaholics, commitment-phobics, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits, or perverts. Will especially stop fantasizing about a particular person who embodies all these things. ~ Bridget Jones

Completing the “Circle”.

THINK COMPLETION – COMPLETE THE CIRCLE – THE CIRCLE MUST BE WHOLE

There are many, many interpretations of what the end of days might actually be for humanity. These apocalyptic renderings range from euphoric (see This is the End) to the more generic religious warnings, (which, from what I understand, are supposed to also be rapturous, but generally fall to horrifying, macabre threats of doom), to the reality of our self-perpetuated stupidity hitting home (see Idiocracy), to scientific explanations to suit all kinds as well, (are you a Big Banger or do you prefer the Steady State sensibility?), to literary warnings along the lines of those portended by George Orwell and Aldous Huxley in their wildly divergent means to a seemingly similar end. Having read both 1984 and Brave New World multiple times as a student and a teacher, I always felt, as Neil Postman (see Stuart McMillen’s artistic rendering of his thesis below) seems to have concluded, that Huxley had a more accurate take on the detrimental human state, and that it was not oppression that would be our end, but unlimited everything…. Achieving one’s altered, yet higher state from a perpetual food-coma as it were. [Soma in a nutshell, eh? Actually, yeah.] And while there are important take-aways from both novels, as I have grown up into this 21st Century lifestyle, watching a world with the capacity to solve all of its problems choose not to, and watching an ever-increasing sense of connection lead to what really looks like isolation… both theses seemed somehow lacking. They were close, but not getting at exactly what I was seeing and feeling. Then I read Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle.

And now I think I know exactly what to be afraid of.

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“Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!”

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“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.”

I finally saw Baz Luhrmann’s production of The Great Gatsby today. Not a new film anymore, I realize, but as is the nature of my life, I tend to get caught up on my celluloid fix during the summers, and a grey San Francisco June day is the perfect time to take in a matinée. For better or for worse, when it takes so long to get around to seeing movies it is impossible to not hear the critiques, and for an American classic of this stature, you can be sure there was an abundance. First, there were the “I haven’t seen the thing and I never will” critiques. These derived from a mix of folks ranging from those who stand on principle that, in fact, you not only cannot repeat the past you should be goddamned barred from trying. Also in this group are the people who categorically find something wrong with Baz Luhrmann, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Jay Z. Another element of this group would be the lit crit snobs, who I think are basing their critique on someone else’s review, which makes them too derivative to really even consider here. Next there were the literary aficionados. This group saw the film, and is largely comprised of teachers (heavily weighted towards English), readers of the New Yorker (or NYT Book Review), Fitzgerald experts, and “Americanists” (yes, that is a thing.) The criticism from this group was heavy on nostalgia and loyalty to the book. Many of them talked about how it was insulting to have the symbolism so directly explained [Um, yes. Americans don’t really read anymore and so I would say that in fact they DO need this explanation.] Some of them talked about how it was too literal, other said it took to many figurative liberties. I also heard complaints about the Luhrmann’s general misunderstanding of Fitzgerald’s primary theme in the novel (arguably the corrosion/degeneration/decay/ruination/failure of the “American Dream”). Associated with the latter was the notion that the irony of the novel would be lost in a Luhrmann-like celebration of the visual and aesthetic grandeur of the time period. How can he make a pretty movie about a fucked up thing like this? 

Ummm… I think you might have missed the irony there, professor.

“I wasn’t actually in love, but I felt a sort of tender curiosity.” 

Anyhow, I went in with my own biases. I have read the novel probably ten times. I read it as a high school student (mostly), and then as a more responsible university student trying to actually e as well read as I said I was, and then as a high school teacher – yes, I too “taught” the novel. In addition to my self-professed familiarity with the book, I also believe that Leo DiCaprio may be one of the most underrated actors of my generation. I mean, forgive the guy Titanic, already, will you? What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Aviator, Catch Me If You Can, The Departed, Blood Diamond, Basketball Diaries, and D’Jango Unchained? Please, that is a list of fantastic films, roles, and work. Anyhow, I suppose I am either preaching to the choir here or wasting time on deaf ears. Beyond that, I also love Baz Luhrmann. Visually, his work is amazing, even if you don’t like the movies, and I would suggest even if you don’t like his aesthetic, it should still be categorized as amazing work. Strictly Ballroom  will forever be a favorite, and judge me how you like, but I liked Moulin Rouge. So, there you have my biases. Oh, and Prada dresses & accessories for the parties? Yeah, I’m in.

“For a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.”

 We have a deep-seated fascination with the “Roaring Twenties” in America. I know this as a U.S. History teacher, as well as a relatively observant human. There is something eternally compelling about a decade of such transition, tumultuous as it was. America came out of WWI looking as dapper as ever, and with the booming markets, new access to popular culture via radio, and huge cultural transitions like women’s rights (women’s suffrage, the Flapper movement, co-ed colleges) and the influence of black culture made more accessible, if not wholly acceptable, through the Harlem Renaissance, and then there was the emerging marriage of music, movies, fashion through the first generation of real American celebrities. People hold on to all these glamorous images tightly, going so far as to stylize even the worst elements of our culture, crime (organized or otherwise), racism, witch hunts (political and economic), in a way that offers pretty and sterile memories; always so much more fun to recollect. The resulting (yes, it was consequential) economic collapse even seems to be romanticized as some sort of retrospective Faustian morality tale – from which we all learned such valuable lessons. Oh. Wait….

I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

Now, off of my teacher soap box and into the theater. The costumes did not disappoint, the work in that area was divine. And the party scenes were just as I would hope from a Luhrmann vehicle: palpable texture. However, the scene that got me from the start was the moment Nick walks into the Buchanan’s home. From the first time I read the book I have loved that scene; the billowing curtains veiling Daisy and Jordan, the whiteness of the space… all of it, and I loved how it was done in this film. Nick’s first party is also fabulous. The way that Gatsby was a man of mystery at once so obvious and so invisible (as Jordan said, “…I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy…”) was, if not totally original, very well done. And anyhow, it is hard to imagine that anyone who was seeing this movie would be without an idea who Gatsby was being played by, so the element of surprise was based more in style than purpose.

Beyond the little things – including wildly overdone settings – which worked by the way (the Valley of Ashes was a crazy zone of transition) I found the movie to be an effective reminder of what I remember being most compelling about the book in the first place: the simultaneous enchantment and repulsion of humanity. The amazing wealth (which was actually available to so many people during the decade Fitzgerald aimed to unveil) is tantalizing, and the way Luhrmann capitalized on Fitzgerald’s descriptions of decadence made the veneer of this wealth viscerally clear. The commodification of everything has become a way of life for modern America, but maybe at one point in time that was not the case.

The scene when Gatsby finally gets to show his home to Daisy, to demonstrate his worth to her, is also exceptionally well done in the film. Daisy’s clear intoxication by the context rather than the  characters of the home is obvious, and her consideration of Gatsby is sad. But the part that got me was when they all went swimming. For some reason the way that Lurhmann brought this scene to life made me so hugely and immediately grateful to be with someone because of the someone they are rather than the somethings they may or may not have. I am unsure why this scene made me think that, but it was immediate and in spite of luxury I could well imagine loving, I was so glad to not be those people. It was weird.

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”

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It reminded me of all the people I see working so hard to be Someone or Something, worried evermore that they will never be enough if they don’t go to all the right places, eat all the right food, like all the right things. You know this guy; the guy who measures his worth by Twitter followers or something, who talks about how much he likes the things that Robin Leach told us we should like back in the day because that will make him higher quality, who talks about how amazing s/he is and how much they love their life telling everyone how they “live the dream”… while they are so totally alone… at the restaurant, at the concert, at the bar… “table for 1”. That irony, being totally alone in the proverbial crowded room was the fate of Gatsby, who believed that Daisy would solve his loneliness.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

Ultimately, it is hard to say if the good guys win this one. I never liked Nick in the book, I found his odd humility and warped self-image far too distracting as a narrator, and clearly the rest of the characters were loathsome, and he is pretty meh in this version as well. All my gay male friends really hate Tobey McGuire for some reason and they blame him for Nick being so lame, but I think Tobey was pretty spot on in terms of suckage, I mean, Nick is the biggest drag in the book – at least the really awful people are not conflicted by their hideous natures. Being self-conscious about it is even more annoying.

“They’re a rotten crowd’, I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

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But there was always Gatsby, perhaps the last bastion of the failing American Dream – the eternal optimist in the face of certain defeat, and someone who was honest enough to understand that the measure of a man would never again be made from his character in this modern world, but only in the correctly constructed facade, regardless of the means of acquisition. Pretty things are more important I guess.

That Gatsby remained hopeful was lovely, and I like to think that he dies believing Daisy did call. I like to think this is because I too am an eternal optimist. And I left this newest version of The Great Gatsby feeling like they got it. It is different from the other versions, but the reminder that we continue to live in a world that increasingly rewards people not for the people they are, or how they have contributed to humanity, but for the spectacle they can make of themselves irrespective of the attendant costs to others or society, is both timely and important.

And maybe we should just call this movie a reminder, not a remake, and then everyone could be less of a critic and take a look at how prophetic the story actually is.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Oh – and ps: Jay Z killed it on the soundtrack. Real talk.