Thursday, November 15, 2007

Is Helping Really Helping?

I watched Reign Over Me today with Adam Sandler and Don Cheadle. It was good but slow to suck me in but I think that was because, alas, I was watching it at home. (Reign Over Me was the last movie I tried to go see in the theater with Vivi when she was a newishborn [She was 5 weeks old and about 6 minutes into the movie at this quiet moment, she made one squawk which freaked me out that I was being the hypocritical mom - who - brings - her - own - noisy - baby - but - grumbles - at - others - who - do - the - same. It was like a Monday 11:50 am showing with maybe 10 other people in the theater so it was probably fine but I'm neurotic enough--yet, clearly aware of my own neuroses-- that I knew I would be unable to focus on the movie for fear that she'd make any sort of peep.]) Since then, it's been on my queue and I finally moved it up to the top (I swear, if I even look at my netflix queue, I have to reorganize it. It's not a compulsion. It's my way of simulating the spontaneity of having a sudden urge to see movie X, which prior to netflix, I'd either go pick up at the DVDVD store [When Will was about 3, he started saying that because our video store was a locally owned--I loathe Blockbuster; don't get me started. It's a whole thing.-- place and on the brick above the storefront instead of saying their name, it just said DVD VIDEO and he was in that reading - all - the - store - signs - while - in - the - car - phase and misspoke and it stuck.] or impulse buy it.)

Interesting theme I found in Reign Over Me was the idea of helping other people. Obviously, when we try to help someone, it's in an attempt to make things better for them, solve a problem, make that person feel better. And yet, how do we as individuals know if what we think is going to help them, actually will? Don Cheadle's character, Alan, in a sincere attempt to help Adam Sandler's character, Charlie, move forward from the horrible tragedy of losing his wife and three children in one of the 9/11 plane crashes, encourages him to talk about it after suppressing the memories for years. In the end, Charlie does, but then is so emotionally overwrought that he wants to kill himself. Likewise, Charlie's dead wife's parents have been trying to reach out to him in an effort to keep contact with the only family they have left connected to their daughter but they don't allow him the space and time to handle it in his own way.

On the surface, all of these people's efforts to help Charlie seem good and I think if I were in one of their positions, I would do something similar and yet, is it the right thing for Charlie? It is so easy in life to think we know what is best for other people, be it our kids, our spouses, our friends, whomever. And yet, we don't always know. Sometimes we do, from our own similar life experiences and whatever personal wisdom we may or may not have. (Hopefully, with our children, especially.)

And yet, time and again in my own personal experience, I find that people are not quite who I thought they were. Even my close family and friends sometimes surprise me with what they think and do. And I'm reminded that I have my own center, that place where I'm coming from, that which affects all my decisions, actions, words and makes me me. Just because I expect other people to act and react like I would, they do not. They are who they are and what they say and do is from their perspective and the sum of all their life experiences. It's like trying to have a conversation with your spouse about that off-white couch you liked. You know, the one with the high back and firm cushions. No, it was low-backed with lots of squishy pillows. No, it wasn't. That was the ecru one. Ecru, off-white. Whatever. Whatever? Our own interpretations of the meanings of words often makes communicating and being honest difficult which can lead to disappointment and confusion (not to mention being pissed off). Then add in our own personality quirks and it's a wonder we ever manage to feel like we know anyone. And it only seems to get murkier as I get older. I guess it's like that cliche about being smarter than your parents at 18 because you knew you knew everything then. There are people I used to know at 20, that I've come to realize I had absolutely no idea. Rand and I call this phenomenon People Are Weird. You have a friend that seems normal, fun, nice, shy, whatever. And then one day something happens and you discover the real them. Or at least a glimpse. And you're just shocked. It's like finding out they are an alien being who's been posing as a human all this time. I swear. It's just like that.

My dad, for example, is an amazing person and usually the most reasonable, logical individual I know. He's the person who calmly says what makes sense and people listen. But, like all of us, even he has his What was that about? hot buttons. The difference is, mine are big and shiny with flashing lights that say Push Me! (Just ask Rand.) whereas his are so well camouflaged that you don't know you've found one until you inadvertantly trip on it and set it off. Ok, so Pop's always been really cool. He was the one who would encourage my sisters and I to wear bikinis when we were teenagers and would take us to see R-rated movies when we were 14-15, saying we were mature enough to understand (and we'd talk about the themes afterward). He always compliments us girls (my mom included. Us Girls always meant everyone but him, being the sole male in my house growing up!) on how beautifully we look, reminds us to put on lipstick. He still sees practically every movie that is released, including The Matrix, Borat, Knocked Up. And he rivals my husband on his knowledge of pop (yuck-yuck!) culture. He knows all the celebrities and such in addition to what's going on in the world politically. My point is, for a 61-year old man, he's pretty damn hip.

Getting back to my alien-in-disguise analogy: One Christmas maybe 5 or so years ago, when Rand, the boys, and I flew to my folks' for Christmas, my baby sister (I'm guessing she was 17 or 18 at the time?) was toying with the idea of dying her hair red. She has beautiful, thick medium-brown hair and was interested in trying something different. I've always thought she looked like a cross between Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles & Claire Danes. Remember Danes in My So-Called Life? (awesome show, by the way. I got so sucked into it that I read the on line fan fiction of someone that continued the story where Brian is put in the hospital and you find out he has cancer or something. It was so true to the characters that when I rewatched all the episodes I was devastated to find the show ended as she drives off in the car with Jordan, looking at Brian, and everything after that was imagined by this writer.) Anyway, Angela dyed her hair Crimson Glow and my sister and I thought she'd look great with a similar color. Now, I'm a natural blonde but once I was pregnant, those damn hormones darkened my hair more than I was willing to accept so I started to enhance it with highlights. My middle sister does the same, and even my mother who is a brunette colors her how to give it a little added umph. The point is, my father is not new to the idea of coloring hair and he likes all the rest of ours. But for some reason the 'I want to color my hair red' triggered his largest yet most well camouflaged hot button--we'll call it the flaming torch button-- and he totally flipped out (which, to be fair, for my father is pretty calm compared to other people). Still, he ended up reading way too much into it, about her not being content with being who she is because she wanted to change herself. Which makes me chuckle, given 10 years of increasingly blonde highlights and Rand's not funny jokes about maybe I should change my driver's license to say Hair: Brown since I'm not really a blond anymore, not really. Which is not only untrue but mean as well. (And only if you, too, are a natural blond that is gradually darkening as an adult, can you truly feel my pain.)

Point is. You think you know people, and no matter how well you do, you still don't really. Not even with your mate, sometimes. So, reciprocally, no one really knows the real you either. Ahhh, but that's a whole other (That phrase is hard to type. I keep saying 'a whole nother' in my mind) blogworthy topic.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Row 5, Center Seat

I go to the movies alone. Not exclusively, but more often than not.

It didn't start out that way. I was raised a movie junkie by my parents. I never understood the "I wouldn't be caught dead with my parents..." line because if it hadn't been for them, I wouldn't have gotten to go to the movies.

Then, off at college, that was pretty much my second home. In fact, as a freshman with no car and a long-distance boyfriend, I took the bus, which made for creative movie choices. Late bus + Pretty Woman = Lambada: The Forbidden Dance. (Can you say mandatory double feature? I think that is quite possibly the worst movie I've ever seen. I can't say for sure without rewatching it, but with an average rating of 2.4, it's certainly close although it still manages to squeak by and miss ranking in the Bottom 100 Movies.)

As newlyweds just out of college, Rand and I went to the movies a lot. He'd been steeped in the family film ways (At my house The Oscars were like the Superbowl to other people.) and it had rubbed off (but not as much as I thought, I would find out years later.) so we usually went to the movies twice a week.

Once kids were added into the mix, however, a $5 movie x 2 became ($5 x 2) + $15 for a sitter. And that was back in 1998. Babysitting rates, like everything else, have increased. So, as my desire to continue seeing most movies stayed constant, my fickle husband's waned. We'd still go together but only for the biggies which were usually sci/fi. Rerelease of the original 3 Star Wars films, The Fellowship of the Ring. Not many, actually. Thus began our patented tag team approach. One of us would catch the 7 showing; the other the 9:30, sometimes even handing off the tickets as we swapped house/car positions. That's how we saw The Matrix the first week it came out. I remember sitting in the mostly empty theater in awe. This guy in front me and I seemed to shake our heads and mutter inaudibly in amazement at all the same points so I really didn't feel like I was watching it alone. I had a hard time containing my excitement at The Switch, so as not to give away any sense of Rand's impending life-changing movie experience! Naturally, I couldn't go to sleep before he came back because I was dying to discuss it.

Tag-teaming worked for quite a while but somewhere in the last 3-4 years, Rand's true nature has revealed itself. That's the one that is extremely choosy about what movies he wants to spend the time & money to go see in the theater. (Jen says this in a near-whisper, shocked at the sacrilege of this idea.) It's not that I don't agree there are some movies I don't care about seeing (although, admittedly, my number is much lower than his) but these are movies he wants to see, just not in the theater.

I don't get this concept. I talk to people all the time confounded by my unflagging devotion to seeing movies in the theater, when they are content to see them on cable or better yet, Netflix. (Which I love, btw! That's how we got hooked on Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Some day I might dedicate a post to Netflix and how it's changed my life. Or better yet, how Joss Whedon has.) The movie theater industry is in trouble due to this very fact. [The lack of movie theater goers, that is, not how Joss Whedon has changed my life. Sorry, I digress frequently and at length, I know. You know it's bad, when you find you need to use 2 types of brackets in order to have parenthetical phrases within parenthetical phrases.] But back to the topic at hand: Seeing films in the theater.

Any movie can be improved by seeing it in the theater. Okay, almost any movie. Not so for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. (I realize it's 5.4 rating is a full 3 points higher than Lambada's and given the choice of which to see again, I'm sure I'd pick Gentlemen, but in some ways this was a worse movie experience because it had the potential to be so much better. Intriguing concept, based on a comic, some good actors, period costumes. What's not to like? No plot. And it just never did anything. Completely forgettable.) If you spend good money on a really crappy movie, you feel like you wasted your money. On the other hand, it's kind of like my control group. It's the standard by which I compare all other bad movies. Well, that and Lambada.

Often, I hear someone rag on a movie, saying it was boring or didn't hold their interest or whatever. But they watched it at home. Usually while talking to their spouse, answering the phone, checking email, telling their kids to get in the shower. Even I, who is the patron saint of Don't Talk During The Movie (A scene about a hot dog commercial from You've Got Mail comes to mind.) find myself making side comments to Rand if we watch a movie at home. It's hard to be completely focused on the film at home with so many potential distractions. I see 2 problems with this scenario.

1. People don't fully appreciate many of the movies they do watch.

2. They act like they're at home watching the movie on their couch when they are at the theater. The talk aloud. They answer their cell phones. They bring their small children.

As for #1, I guess I just wish more people seemed to get something out of the movies they see the way I do. I think that's part of why I'm a DVD movie commentary watcher/listener-- you hear the makers of the movie talk about the meaning of their movie and I get that! As for #2, it just makes for a lousy movie experience for the rest of us. And I'm all about The Movie Experience.

The Movie Experience

I'm probably going to sound (if I don't already) like the Movie Nazi and I'm really not. I'm just an enthusiastic cinephile. I mean, I have my preferences, but when I do go with someone, I don't shush them incessantly or insist on sitting in my favorite spot. If you do something with other people, you obviously have to accept a certain amount of compromise in order to have a group consensus. (On the other hand, if they don't care, I'm happy to make the choice. :-) ) I went to see the new Pride & Prejudice with my neighborhood book club which was fun and as you might expect, a little chatty. And when I went with my best friend to the movies and she opened her incredibly loud, crinkly package of smuggled-in Oreos at the most quiet, romantic point of Becoming Jane, I quietly took the proffered cookie and said nothing more while I silently cringed (at the, admittedly, probably-only-loud-to-me sound since there were no more than 20 people in the theater).

To be fair, though, I do have a reputation for liking it a certain way. Some friends still think I have to be at a movie 30 minutes prior to starting or I'm not happy. I've chilled out about that, mostly because with a busy family, I've learned to cut my losses and appreciate getting out alone at all, let alone early. Besides, that was back in my college days when I had oodles of free time. Still, in the immortally high maintenance words of Sally Albright, "I just want it the way I want it."

Plus, trying to coordinate going to a movie with a girlfriend at this point in my life is no easy task. Not only do you both have to be free at the same time, but your spouses have to be available to watch the kids, or in our case, be home while the kids sleep and we go to the late movie. Then there's the negotiation process of choosing the movie since you know this may be the only one you see for awhile. Last year shortly before the Academy Awards, I was catching up seeing the last of the nominated biggies (best director, best actor, supporting actress, etc.). After going to a work meeting one evening, I was heading straight to see Hustle & Flow when a friend called wanting to meet up with me but she had no interest in seeing H & F. She didn't want to see whatever else was on my must-see list and I had already seen her top choices. We ended up seeing a German movie so obscure that I've spent the last 30 minutes searching fruitlessly on line for the title. It was an interesting story about a couple of friends (or were they brothers?) and some girl, out in the woods. Did they kidnap her? Ahhh... it's hovering just outside my memory... Wait-- they break into her dad's house, tie him up, move stuff around, end up killing him, maybe. And with her help. Then they end up in the woods, hiding out. If you know the movie I mean, please enlighten me! Anyway, point is, we saw a movie that we would probably never have chosen otherwise. My only saving grace? Since Hustle & Flow had come out the previous summer and it was re-released in January/February due to it's nomination only, it still managed to come out on DVD before the Oscars, so Rand and I watched it in time anyway. Good thing too, since it won for best original song.

These days I see about 80% of my movies by myself and I've gotten to where I almost prefer it as I don't know anyone who is of like mind. I try to go 15 minutes early to have time to chill and read my book or write in my journal (Because the stupid The Twenty is always blaring, I tune it out w/ my ipod) beforehand but I often only skate in just before the previews and am lucky to jot down the date and name of movie I'm about to see. I don't like to miss the previews. And yet they show waaaaay too much in them. They could cut out half of most preveiws and still show plenty. (Rand's solution is to close his eyes when a preview starts of a movie he really wants to see.) All it should do is whet your appetite. Make you say hey, I gotta see that. I bring a bottle of water with me and sometimes a small treat like a cookie. I don't do popcorn. Or soda. And the crucial item of my movie-watching gear? A blanket. Yep, I keep a light-weight fleece one in the car for just this reason. I used to bring a sweater but then my feet or legs would get cold if I wore sandals or a skirt and it seems silly to wear long pants, socks, closed-toed shoes, and a sweater to go to the movies when it's 95 degrees out. This way, it doesn't matter what I wear because my blanket covers all of me!

Where do I sit? Row 5, center seat if I can. The row number is variable depending on the theater. With the advent of stadium seating, there's usually 2-3 rows at the extreme front and then there's an aisle to cross to the far side of the theater. Even if you like to sit close, you do not want to sit in the first row after this because people will pass right in front of you if they get up during the movie (and you don't have a place to put your feet either.) So, my row 5 is usually the 2nd row after that gap. I know a lot of people don't like to sit this close but the beauty of it is that unless you go at a busy time, there are fewer people that sit up front and often, there's no one anywhere in front of me or even in my peripheral vision. This is a passive yet effective defense against the ubiquitous Talkers or Baby Bringers. As is going to the first showing of the day. Even on a weekend, unless you are seeing the big blockbusters, it's usually nearly deserted. I think it's because most people don't decide to go to the movies until about noon. Me, I'm all about the planning ahead for my movie. For instance, if you wait too long to see a movie, once it's been supplanted by newer, hotter films, it gets relegated to the chumpy, smaller screens at the back of the theater. In addition, if a new film is on more than one screen, one showing is in the premiere big theater while the other is in the smallest (usually the 2nd cycle of times so you have to pay attention to that when choosing your 7:05 or 7:35 showing; otherwise you'll end up seeing Live Free or Die Hard on opening night in the smallest theater imaginable.)

As the ads and light fade and the previews begin, I stow my stuff and a contented warmth fills me as I snuggle under my blanket in the chill theater, the anticipation of becoming another person, part of another world engulfing me. So, next time you see that lonely person sitting up in the front, don't pity her; maybe she is exactly where she wants to be!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The Obvious Question

So my husband had a vasectomy this morning.

It wasn't a big deal-- OK, yes it's a big deal, but I mean, we didn't make it a big deal. My husband was a-okay about scheduling it; there were no debates or discussions about why he had to do it, etc. -- but we (and when I say we, I of course mean I) told the boys that dad was having a little surgery. It was going to interfere with the normal routine and I wanted to apprise them of the situation briefly. Cooper took it in stride like most young boys do. OK, sure Mom. (He's 7, easy going, and often oblivious to the undercurrents and subtext of a given discussion. Sometimes even to the discussion itself. Especially if he's reading comics at the time.)

Then there's Will. He's 9. He's all about the subtext. He's been catching on when you didn't want him to since he was 3. No joke. I think that was the first time he asked about where babies come from and instead of just accepting the 'in my tummy' type of response, he wanted to know from where and exactly how it came out. This is the same boy who at age 4 brought me a box of the tampons I use as we passed the feminine products on the way to the razors, saying "Here Mom. A new box of toilet sticks". (He then chuckled to himself, adding, "I just called them that because they are in the bathroom and shaped like sticks.)

Fast forward 5 years and the statement, "Daddy's having a little surgery tomorrow" isn't accepted as is. Not in our house. At least not by Will. Instead it starts a lengthy Q & A:

"What's the surgery for?"

"Well, it's actually similar to what Asterisk had done at the vet." (Coincidentally, our 7 month old cat was neutered two days before.)

"You mean so he can't make babies?"

"Yes." (We've had many variations on the discussion of sex that have only gotten more interesting and to the point as Will has aged. I could probably talk about those various instances alone for a couple of weeks! Suffice it to say that he knows the sperm comes from the man's penis and goes inside the woman.)

Will ponders this and then poses two more questions:

"Will it hurt?"

"Um, some. He'll be sore after but it won't hurt while they're doing the surgery." I proceed to explain briefly without too much detail into where/how they snip. (Shockingly, he doesn't probe for further details. I soon find out why.) "He'll feel back to normal in a couple days."

"Is it expensive?"

It's my turn to pause. "Well, yes, but insurance pays for some of it. It will probably cost us a few hundred dollars."

Will thinks for a moment and then asks, "Why doesn't he just not have sex?"

And there he goes, like a heat-seeking missile, able to bypass all the extraneous stuff, aiming straight for the target. And he never misses.

I say nothing for a moment, trying not bust up and finally manage a, "Well, yes, he could do that. That would be another alternative." and finally, "but, you know, once you're a grown up, once you're married (yes, still using that safety net!), sex is for making babies but it's also something you enjoy."

"I won't!" he immediately responds.

"That's ok, but once you're an adult you may change your mind."

The Q & A was yesterday afternoon. Rand had to work late since he was going to be off for the next two days so the boys didn't see him until this morning as we were getting ready for school. As Will & Coop are finishing up breakfast, Rand comes down with Vivian, our 8 month old daughter, who is looking for her breakfast (read: Mommy). I sit down to nurse her and before Rand can go back upstairs to get ready, Will comes over to Rand and says:

"Dad, I know you're going to have surgery today on your wiener to stop the sperm so you can have sex for fun!"

Not much you can say to that, is there? :-)