Posted by: M.C. | 5 February 2011

Lighten Up, Francis

It falls to me, then. (I was going to say “It falls to us” but I stopped myself because I realized that I can’t speak for anyone else or at least don’t want to try. I exhibit this propensity to slip into the first person plural, and I’m not sure what that’s about. Am I trying to hide my own experiences—meaning problems and failings and idiosyncrasies—behind the pretense of representing some group: my generation my race my gender my personality type my socioeconomic demographic? Or does it come down to feeling odd when I see so many first person singular pronouns embedded in the sentences traveling across my screen? Digression? I think not. We’ll—Aaargh—I’ll see in what follows. Where was I? Oh, yes..) It falls to me, then. The problem of my consciousness and its appropriateness and its place in the world and whether I’m going to let it play itself out or seek to submerge or modify it for any one of a number of socially justifiable reasons. The right (not in the sense of “correct” but in the sense of “the only workable”) answer is to let it play. You probably saw that coming; I probably telegraphed it, even if I wasn’t sure when I was writing these past few entries what the answer should be. But if the answer be to push back, to unbend myself from the pretzel logic (yes, for you Steely Dan fans out there, that phrasing was intentional) that seems to dominate this particular age, that still leaves the question of just how to pull that off.

I read today (yes, I know it wasn’t directly work related) a Rolling Stone interview with Stanley Kubrick from 1987 age (back in the age of papyrus) when his film Full Metal Jacket was released. After recovering from the fact that this was more than 20 years ago now, and acknowledging the hole in my film viewing life that his death continues to leave, I couldn’t help but marvel at his ability to shape the making films into the kind of experience that he wanted it to be. I keep wondering where that comes from. Was he born with it? Did he get it from some kind of nurturing he received as a child? Did he manufacture it somehow? These are not abstract questions to me, even though I’m not and don’t practically see how I could become a filmmaker.

Strength, that chameleon of a concept, that method actor of a quality, keeps coming to my mind as as good a name for the thing I’m looking for as any other. Thing? I know, not very concrete; not very specific. Call it a label if you like. But names don’t behave, and that certainly applies to the word “strength.” I have played this recurring trick on myself where at any given moment all I see are weaknesses—thinness when I was a boy and youth, laziness as I grew older, glibness in my work relationships, too much deliberateness at one point, too much impatience at another, not enough discipline as a  running motif. Give me five or ten years, though, and I begin to pine for thequalities I used to want so badly to shed. I look in the mirror or step onto the scale and try to figure out ways to carve my form down to the wisp of a physical presence that I once had. I wish now that I could rest more in the ease that I used to wear so lightly and judge so harshly. And I’d love to recover the ability to not take things so seriously (I’m trying to introduce “Lighten up, Francis” from Bill Murray’s Stripes as a new mantra). Which brings me to my current working definition of strength: compassion. It’s come to me as I’ve thought about what goes along with those moments when I feel most anxious or helpless or lost, most like I’m not where I want to be in life. It comes down to annoyance or frustration or even anger. Sometimes that’s directed at other people. Mostly it’s directed at me: He/she/I should know better; he/she/I should have thought things through more, paid more attention, been more careful. It seems to flow from some sense that I have no room for error, which, if true, means that I’m good and cooked anyway because the errorless life is not one I’m going to attain anytime soon. Or maybe I have this thought that I’ve screwed up so much that I’ve used up my allotment. Whatever the source, it generates the desire to be more in control of my world and myself, bringing with it more tension and discontent. Conversely, a greater sense of contentment comes when I turn off judgments about myself, about others, and about how life should be moving forward at any given moment. So the only real strength I have comes when I let life be, to turn down my expectations, and to accept myself as I am (even if it’s not how I think I should be). I know this isn’t new stuff, but it’s still counterintuitive in our culture, and certainly in my head. But when I write and it goes well, it’s because I’ve released my words with a sense of their power and an acceptance of my responsibility for their effects, but a trust, a faith, that I need to give myself over to them (the words, the writing) anyway because that’s the only way to find out the things about myself that I need to find out.

It falls to me. No one’s going to save me from my fear by giving me the love I should have had all along. No one else, anyway. I’ve been hoping someone else could do that for me, and not that I’m not loved, and not that some haven’t tried. But essentially, I’m the only one who’s going to pull this thing off. And that seems to mean I have to give myself permission to suck sometimes. No, that’s too limited. I have to be okay with the pervasiveness and persistence of my imperfections. Still not there. I have to make peace with the person who inhabits this skin being who he is rather than who I thought he was supposed to be.

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