Something Like Therapy

I can't stop thinking about my personal ramifications from watching the movie Bully last week. I mentioned one sentence in my essay about it last week, but it just opened up a big can of worms.

Perhaps most recently, I was working on writing a proposal to speak about the solar system I had installed last year, but I quickly grew disinterested as I worked through my estimates of return-on-investment. But what was really stopping me was my painful "to hell with them" attitude. I've never been much of a salesman — and notoriously anti-good at marketing (owing to my desire to permit people to make an informed decision). I feel like I'm constantly fighting the status quo on big-picture issues: I talk with enough people who wring their hands over increasing energy costs and blame "the man" for ripping them off, but then fail to see they can just walk away from "the man", get a solar system, and do away with a big chunk of variability. The debate, see, gets quickly personal for me when I have a solution and they won't listen — as if they're actually calling me stupid.

Or like a few years ago when I abandoned my "mileage maximizer" project for, essentially the same kinds of reasons: "screw them." I still think that idea would work, and possibly be a significant step toward winning a 100 mpg X-prize. But there's really two outcomes: either it works, and then either I fail to market it correctly, or someone else takes it away from me and turns it into a "Bad Thing" — or it doesn't work and I'm ridiculed for being so foolish. In no way does it work out that I gain any satisfaction from it because I can't help but hear the critical voices. And the last thing I want is to give something useful to my critics.

Another thing that comes up often enough is my hair-trigger on people taking advantage of me. I probably missed out on a pretty fair number of dates in my past: if a woman was sweet to me, I always assumed she wanted something. I'd hook up her stereo, or drive her somewhere, or fix her car, or help with her assignments — all with a begrudging pleasure at the certainty that this was my lot in life. In retrospect, I can deduce that each of them probably just kinda liked me and wanted to get to know me, but even now, I can't fully internalize that was even possible. And I still can't believe it — I'm still skeptical when I meet someone who (to anyone else) clearly likes me, and the stronger the attraction, the stronger the skepticism.

And then, I take an excruciatingly long time to trust someone. And that trust can dissipate instantly if I even start to believe the relationship has any ulterior value. It's a constant struggle to balance on that razor edge: a combination of denial and suppressing evidence, and a desire to really feel trust — trust where I don't even consider that I'm being played. That's how my closest relationships work: my best approximation to what real trust must be like.

In high school (and most of college) I found my niche skating by with minimal effort. I graduated 4th in my class, and I was very pleased at that because it absolved me from the responsibilities of being valedictorian or salutatorian, particularly giving speeches. My whole point was to try to be invisible; to get attention from nobody, good or bad.

Farther back, things get more hazy, and all lumped together. Was it first grade or fifth grade that I sat in back of the bus solely to endure (unsuccessfully) the psychology cruelty of the "bad kids" who sat there? Did some kid wreck my diorama on the way to school or was that Lisa Simpson? Why do I remember so few good times on the bus? Why didn't anybody do anything about the misery I was going through?

I went into the world with an open heart. I have learned to ferociously guard that kid in me who believes people are good and they want to help others. But then I met my peers and they were sometimes cruel. And the adults in the world would say, "well that's the way the world works, Jay." They sided with the evil. And it is evil. And wrong. Being good and nice is natural to all of us, and it's the way we should all be all the time — it should be exceptional to ignore someone who is hurting. Yet it's always the story of someone who takes five minutes to help that is treated as exceptional. Well God damn it: you're all wrong.

And to me, that's the take-away from Bully: these kids who are bullied, they are the best people in the world. To coddle the bullies is tantamount to child abuse — it's teaching that cruelty is okay, that rudeness is okay, that abuse is okay, that stealing is okay, that rape is okay: they're all part of the same family, grown from the same kernel. We get the chance to build a new society every day, but we keep supporting the ugliest parts and wondering why it doesn't get better.

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Getting Back to Emerging Filmmakers at the Little

It's been a long time, but I got a note about The Emerging Filmmakers Series at The Little (240 East Ave.) so I decided to go check it out.

Starting out was With Love, Marty by Jack Kyser in which Kyser plays the central character: a college-age man desperate for the affection of a specific woman. I found his presentation to be brutally honest from all angles — I know from experience how it is to desperately desire someone, and to resort to honest, direct means that work only to sabotage any possible relationship. It touches on the way you can fool yourself into thinking the mental picture you have of someone is the true picture of jem (when, in fact, all representations of other people in your mind are simply reflections of yourself — they are, ultimately, you.)

61 Years by Holly Rodricks is a documentary about her grandmother and grandfather's tumultuous relationship at the end of his life. It was a beautiful and moving piece about life and death, wishes and realities. It starts out with Rodrick's grandmother insisting that her grandfather has been punishing her for her entire life for marrying against their parents wishes (they are Indian, and got married in defiance of their destined, prearranged marriage). Meanwhile, her grandfather is quietly dying — the fragile shell of a once brash and bold man. But under all the outward complaints, and aside from the dutiful commitment to one another, lies real compassion and tenderness.

The Breakfast by Tanya Schiller was a curious, subtly humorous piece that simply followed the interactions of four people eating breakfast at a bed-and-breakfast.

Closing out was American Bomber: The John William Hidell Story by Eric Trenkamp. It's a faux-documentary about the "first American suicide bomber" — it uses the talking-heads model of documentary making to create a story about a man who lashes out — literally self-destructively — at those he feels are a threat. It works nearly perfectly with only a few minor problems that tip off that it can't possibly be for real. But interestingly, in being so near perfect, what would it take to make a perfect fake documentary?

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Blowup at the Dryden and the Holidays

I headed out to the Dryden Theatre at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Blowup. I had not seen it before but I was glad to do so. It settles well after a few days: it's art-house and avant garde but still accessible. At least to me where I am now … I imagine it's not unusual to watch this and just not get it.

The protagonist is a fashion photographer. At first he seems a bit eccentric — like a stereotypical artist-type from the late 1960's: that Andy Warhol pop-culture variety. He doesn't seem to agree with society on what has value and what does not — in fact, he seems to have no sense of some things having value and others not. From the beautiful women he photographs to an antique wooden propeller to music to food and drink to people — nothing is any better than anything else.

That is, until he examines his own work and discovers the trappings of a murder. He's intrigued. It's voyeuristic: he works from his safe and familiar nest, observing that which is most dangerous and visceral. And here the film perfectly captures that essence: inviting the strange into your safe haven through a portal — a window, a TV screen, or a photograph.

But then it's all taken away. And in a brilliantly poetic finish, he comes to realize the balance between the real and the imagined — and through that, what has value.

So here we are, at the cusp of another end-of-year holiday season — dripping with the insidiously sticky notion that we should buy totems of love for people we can't seem to find the time to listen to for the whole of the past year. Several thoughts cross my mind.

1

Last month I got this "Amish Friendship Bread" recipe from Ali from someone she works with. I did some Internet research and discovered that it wasn't all that special — and probably didn't even originate with the Amish. It's basically a bread starter: a mix of yeast, flour, sugar, and (in this case) milk — a living yeast culture. The gist is that over 10 days you keep the starter alive (adding ingredients to feed it at one point) then split up the batch of starter 5 ways, make one batch of bread with one of the splits, and then distribute the other 4 to your friends along with the instructions.

My bread came out okay, but I wanted to shove the underlying philosophy back to tradition. I wanted to make it a personal experience, and an evolution. I wanted people to copy the recipe by hand then notate how they changed the recipe and what the outcome was like before passing it on.

Unfortunately, with Christmas shopping and all the frenetic activity, I didn't have the chance. I read, though, that you can freeze a bread starter. So that's what I did. I'll work on it next year sometime.

2

In an article titled Fuck the Cheerleader; Buy a Gift Card, Save the World, the folks at Violent Acres outline why gift cards — particularly those Visa cash-like cards you can get at the bank — are such a perfect gift. The gist is this: you can't be bothered to spend time with people you love, and everybody you know has more stuff than they know what to do with, so you'd like to get them nothing and them to get you nothing — perhaps just spend some Quality Time™ together instead. But, people get all uptight about not giving gifts. So instead of bestowing heavy politics on them about it, just get them a fucking gift card.

I have no idea what the cheerleader has to do with it.

3

No Impact Man is a guy — specifically Colin Beavan — who spent 2007 trying to minimize his environmental impact while living with his wife and kid in a New York City apartment. He posted an insightful piece recently titled The No Impact Dear Santa letter. I've been fascinated by Beavan's trials and tribulations, but this particular post has this poignant personal observation: "I was thinking how when I talked to a bunch of third graders a while back and I said to them, 'How many of you know the feeling of really wanting something and then when your parents finally get it for you, instead of feeling excited, you feel kind of disappointed and sad?' Three-quarters of the kids raised their hands."

Gifts, when given without the heart to back them up end up feeling hollow to me. Last Christmas I know I got some stuff. The only thing I remember offhand, though, is the scarf Ali made for me. I think that's amazing. I don't know how to knit things and although I think I can understand how it's done, I don't have the right aptitude to do the repetition right so it comes out. And she made it.

But most of all is that she backs it all up with her love. Through joyful days and trying days she's still there. It's funny that it's kind of like the scarf: stitch after stitch, row after row — before you know it, it's something meaningful. You know what else: I remember picking out the yarn colors and she wondered whether green and orange would go together, but I insisted.

And you know? Somehow it works.  Twenty months to the day, in fact.

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