Monthly Archives: November 2012

what’s a meta for?

When I was six or seven, my parents and I were watching Wallace and Gromit’s “The Wrong Trousers,” and, at a particularly emotional scene where the bipedal, sentient dog Gromit dons a yellow slicker and leaves his hapless human friend Wallace with his new penguin friend, I asked what seemed like a straightforward question.

“Why is it always raining when it’s sad?”

I did not go on to a lucrative career in film criticism (if such a thing exists), but I did go on to love metaphors. Metaphors are the building blocks of stories, after all! Or maybe they’re the vanishing point of stories, that gives everything depth. Or! Maybe they’re the pulsing mall-music of stories, pitched at exactly the right frequency to make you vibrate, Tacoma-Narrows-style, with a desire to buy buy buy whatever emotional tenor the author has orchestrated therein.

See what I mean? Good, bad, mixed, or mangled, I never met a phor I didn’t like.

When you’re a writer, this is a desirable quality. If you’re dutifully showing, and not telling, you trot out all kinds of masterful, lyrical symbols to climate-control the biodome of your story’s universe. Every character shaves with Occam’s razor and offs themselves with Chekov’s gun. Things are portentious, ominous, foreboding, pregnant (not literally, of course), and zeugmatic. Of course, spilling your story’s guts into this kind of augury can easily tip into overkill, but if you can keep a light hand, I would argue that your metaphors will be the single elevating grace of any work.

When you’re a person, though, a love for metaphor is dangerous. A metaphor is like a lens into or out of something. It’s a way to see what isn’t there in what is–good for art, bad for life. Because if you let the sundry inconveniences and arguments of normal living in a normal life echo out into Grand Significance, you are going to make yourself sad. You are going to make your boyfriend a Shepherd’s Pie and despair when he adds chili powder because it means he thinks you’re boring. You are going to fall out of crow pose and fret about the intrapersonal implications of not being able to literally hold yourself up. You are going to break your banjo strings and think you are impotent and helpless as an artist. You are going to see the brunch place’s shortage of bacon sandwiches as a sign that you can’t connect with your family while they are in town even though everyone is perfectly content to order eggs instead.

Stop. Don’t think so much. Your life may be your art, but you are not the ultimate artist. Just because you’re a writer when creating stories doesn’t mean that you are a thing written when you are living them out. Some things just happen, and most things aren’t showing you anything. Sometimes you need to break down the imagined artifice of everyday life and remind yourself of facts: your boyfriend likes spicy food. Arm muscles take a while to build. Banjo strings are finicky. Bacon sandwiches are understandably popular and that place has good gingerbread lattés anyway. 

So. It’s not raining because it’s sad, it’s raining because there’s a low pressure system coming in. And  when a double rainbow shows up afterwards, you can drag your visiting best friends out onto the porch and admire your sheer, collective luck at being privy to the unknowable and random machinations of nature.

Say “I love you.” Use your words. Tell, don’t show, your life to yourself.

everyone’s gone to the movies

For the last two years of my life, I have seen a movie, in theaters, at least once a week. In the past seven days, I have gone to the movies six times. I am likely to go again today, possibly twice, and then again on Friday.

Yes, I’m still working on all those projects. My second novel-in-progress is chugging pluckily along and the freelance stuff is getting lanced for (mostly) free. I’m also devoting non-zero amounts of time to practicing the banjo, cooking sufficient amounts of food, and learning to hold myself up with my arms at yoga class. I am dealing with crises by thinking positively and constructively. In short, I am still making good use of this time for Personal and Creative Development. And movies are a part of this, no question.

When I was in Paris, I went once or twice a week as a way to practice my language skills without having to talk to anyone, because I’m an introvert and because who knew when else I would get a chance to see Le Princess Movie? When I was in Chicago, I worked in the projection booth at Doc Films and unrolled celluloid strips of everything from avant-garde shorts on 16mm to all 7 (!!) reels of the Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition. In Montreal, there’s a film festival every damn week, Le Cinéclub, and six-dollar-cheapie-Tuesdays at the AMC three blocks from my apartment. I have been racking up points on my Scene card and Cineplex and could probably recite every line of dialogue in the “Silver Linings Playbook” trailer from memory.

I don’t go because I’m a film person. I love popcorny dumb movies and actually get to the theater early to watch the 2wenty* and all the trailers and engage in single-player games of “spot the visual metaphor.” I go because I just like movies. Roger Ebert, who is one of my favorite writers, critic or otherwise, once wrote something about “hunkering down in the womblike security of the theater,” and while I don’t want to get all Freudian nirvana-instinct on you, I’ll hazard at least that it’s a truth universally acknowledged that every moviegoer must be in want of some kind of temporary yet all-encompassing escape.

And yet I have this idea that people think going to the movies alone and frequently is weird. While it may be charming and quaint to have the cheesemonger at the market recognize you and start wrapping up your favorite sharp cheddar as you approach, it’s embarrassing for the ticket girl with the glasses to see you three days in a row and punch another movie out of your carnet étudiant**.

ooh, burn!

But. I saw documentaries on all of the following: a quirky Icelandic grandma-cum-musician, Dominican monks, teenagers in America and teenagers in Quebec, even though the latter group of kids had such thick accents I didn’t understand much. I saw Cloud Atlas and then I read Cloud Atlas. I saw Peaches Do Herself. I was unimpressed with Wreck-It Ralph and incredibly distracted by JGL’s fake eyebrows in Looper. And I didn’t have to coordinate schedules or justify seeing The Perks of Being A Wallflower without reading the book first or avoid French movies because my companion wouldn’t understand without subtitles.

It might be incredibly self-indulgent, but as addictions go, this one is minimally expensive and nominally enriching, so I think it shakes out. If you have yet to go to the movies alone, please do make a date with yourself. And bring your student ID.

*pronounced two-wenty, a-duh
**though I am not technically a student any longer, I am still as poor as one, so I feel that this is morally justifiable