Thursday, August 11, 2016

This past week I was discussing the movie Suicide Squad with a coworker.  She had heard from another coworker that it was a “horrible movie”.  I began to defend it as not being so when she looked down at the Jared Leto shirt I was wearing and said in a dismissive tone, “Well you’re a Jared Leto fan. Of course you didn’t think it was horrible.” 

There it was.  The subtle sneer.  The dismissive tone.  The implication that I had a brainless infatuation with a man who is nothing more than a pretty face.  A condemnation in fact of my very life.  Not the first time it has happened, and certainly not to be the last.  The question is, “How do I explain?”

How do you tell someone that you owe your very life to the relationship they have just dismissed so casually?  People don’t like crazy.  They, for the most part, don’t understand what it is like to be surrounded by darkness.  To have The Maniae descend and refuse to leave without at least a pound of flesh.

A bullied child I was always on the outskirts of society.  I learned very quickly that it was less painful to be invisible than to be endlessly mocked for trying to find a place amongst the other children I grew up with.  So I sat with my books in corners and escaped to different worlds.  But invisibility equals profound loneliness.  People do not love what they cannot see.  After having learned to be invisible, l also quickly learned that to be happy, I needed to be anyone I could possibly be, other than myself. 

So, I tried.  I tried to reinvent myself but failed.  If I did overcome the invisibility, it was only long enough for people to see what they had no interest in seeing.  I eventually gave up until one day I things seemed to change.  Suddenly, there was someone who claimed he saw what others did not or refused to.  Like a fool, I believed.  I ached for it to be true.  He was not who I had dreamed of, but I was too afraid he would be the only one who could see me that I told myself it was time to reinvent again.  This time I would be who he wanted.  I would be “perfect” and he would stay.  For eight years, I tried.  It almost killed me.  I was reduced to a 97 pound shell of a human plagued by crippling anxiety and deep depression, but I tried.  I continued to wither under his scorn, his assurances that all my efforts were in vain, that I had not achieved even a bare minimum of acceptable much less perfection, and still I tried.  Until one day, I realized that he did not see me.  He saw what he believed to be human play dough.  A formless mass that he could force into becoming what he wanted, that could be “suitably trained”.  When he sneered that I couldn’t even be trained right, I suddenly gave up.

I left with nothing.  No money.  No job.  No home.  No self.  I quickly made plans to reinvent myself, but this time and for the first time, in my image.  Not his.  Not my parents’.  Not the world’s.  For a year, I tried.  For a year, The Maniae circled whispering in my ear that I would fail.  That I was nothing.   I failed miserably. 

For three years, I was stuck.  Every time I tried to get back up, I would make it to my knees, only to be knocked back down again.  The only solace I found was in the work of a man I had been somewhat familiar with over the years.  I had first seen him long ago on tv.  Then during that year I tried to live life on my terms, I would see him from time to time, his bright pomegranate Mohawk drawing my eye, his song bringing a temporary smile.  I sought him out during this three year cycle of torment.  The more I saw of him, the more I heard him sing, the more I found strength in his words.  I became a devoted disciple.  I instinctively knew that here was a man who had stared at the same darkness I had and had won.  In him was the great beauty that I knew was possible in the world.  I had seen glimpses of it in other things, but here it was in him shining like a beacon, rising above the pollution of the world, the pollution that constantly threatened to pull me under, pollution that could not touch him or the beauty. 

I clung to him.  As The Maniae continued to close in, I soon found myself struggling to even stay alive.  There was little hope left in my world.  I began to feel I would never be free of the swirling whirlpool of darkness that had me in its grip.  I lay, curled in a ball, listening.  Listening to Jared promise me that it was ok if I had fallen apart again as long as I got up again.  “I feel apart, but got back up again.”  I listened hoping that his words could give me the strength to try to get up again.  Hoping his words could keep me alive.  Against all odds, slowly I got back up.  I was able to stay on my knees long enough until one day, in a story for another time, I grabbed an opportunity and ran.  Ran from whirlpool.  Ran from The Maniae.  Ran toward Jared.  Now I find myself looking toward all manner of amazing things.  London, Scott, Simon, Hadley, Sergei.  And soon, Jared himself, again.

But she, like all the others, doesn’t want to hear this.  She just wants to dismiss my relationship as nothing more than a vapid like for a pretty face with no substance beneath it.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Thumbing a nose at humanity

A couple of days ago, I ran across this article regarding a proposed fashion project:

Am I the only one who finds this project just wrong on a very fundamental level?  What makes her any different then say a serial killer who wears the skin of their victim?  Or the Nazis and all of their macabre and evil experiments?

I believe that fashion plays a large role in how we non-verbally communicate with the world about who we are as a person.  This, to me, denies the very humanity at the core of fashion.  It becomes especially distasteful if you consider that Alexander McQueen died of suicide after a deeply unhappy life in which he struggled with the mental illness of depression.  That's right.  She wants to capitalize on something that is only available because a man was tortured to death by his own inner demons.

So, obviously, this is a topic that deserves scrutiny.  Consideration of it asks you to look deep within yourself and ask some serious questions about the fundamentals of humanity.  Please, comment below.  I am anxious to know if I am alone in my revulsion.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Tortured Beauty

A while back, one of you asked me what it was about Sergei Polunin and his story that I found so fascinating.  I wanted to answer the question completely and rightly.  My apologies, Cassidy, that it has taken so long for me to get around to answering.

I first discovered Sergei Polunin while watching the Phantom of the Opera 25th Anniversary concert that took place at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2011.  He was performing the role of the Slave Master in the opening ballet.  Even though it was a relatively minor part, he stood out amongst all the others on the stage.  His athletic ability is easily seen, and when they showed the close-up of his face, I was forever under his spell.    

I immediately looked up his name in the credits and, as we all do when confronted with new knowledge, went immediately to Wikipedia to find out all that I could.

Sergei Polunin is a Ukranian ballet dancer, though not by his choice.  As he was growing up in the Ukraine, his mother felt there were only two choices for him to have a successful life: gymnastics or ballet.  She started Sergei in gymnastics at a very young age.  He studied until an illness sidelined him and left him behind his fellow classmates.  He then switched to ballet where he quickly established himself as an unparalleled talent.  It seems that Sergei had a natural aptitude for ballet rarely seen.  His physical ability allowed him to progress rapidly until he left all those around him far behind becoming a prodigy at a young age.  He was sent to England to study and by the age of 19 was named the youngest principle dancer ever for the Royal Ballet in London.  He had a life that millions of young dancers everywhere could only dream of.  He had a life he had not chosen.  He found himself trapped in a gilded cage.  Like any caged bird, he began to fight against his bonds longing for a freedom that seemed beyond his grasp.  He only found release in dancing, but it was dancing that was keeping him trapped.  It was the very talent within him that made him so in demand, yet that very talent that was slowly killing him.  There were rumors of drugs.  Of late night partying.  Of desperate unhappiness.  Until one day, he quit.  He walked in, hours before a show, and simply said, "Enough".  He was eviscerated in the press.  They called him spoiled.  They called him childish.  They called him a devil.  They called him the bad boy of ballet.  They called him irresponsible. 

Finally, it reached a point where he decided he would do one more dance, then never dance again.  Out of that, came this video. 

This took my breath away.  I fell in love with Sergei all over again.  Throughout out the dance, I could see him fighting, fighting against all the demons that had plagued him through the years.  Fighting against the very talent that allowed him to do the amazing things I was watching.  It seemed to be not just a ballet, but Sergei's life in visual form.  

Thankfully, this video quickly went viral.  Through it, millions of people around the world fell in love with Sergei as I had.  Perhaps best of all, the admiration and love this video spawned inspired Sergei to not leave dance.  It renewed his spirit and launched several projects that will keep him dancing for quite some time.  And in the past year, he has found love with a fellow Russian ballet dancer who has increased his love for ballet even more.

So that is Sergei's story in a very short version.  Why do I find it so compelling?  I have always had a deep love for beauty, but not the traditional ideas of beauty.  I am enthralled by beauty that is haunted.  I've shared this picture in other places, but I will use it here again as a visual example. 

So this is Glyn Philpot's Mask of a Dying Faun.  Why does this appeal to me?  It is the perfect example of beauty.  It is a gorgeous face, well-formed, strong, proud, with a touch of androgyny.  But it is not a happy face.  In its lines and planes, you see great sadness, introspection, and weariness as if the ugliness of the world weighs heavily on his shoulders.  It is a beauty that is perfect because it has risen above that very ugliness.  It has been touched but not overcome.  This is what I see when Sergei dances.  

I encourage you all to use Google to explore Sergei and his career.  Watch him dance.  Read interviews so you can learn about him in his own words.  Let him bring beauty into your world.  And as always all comments and discussion are welcome.  I hope you all fall in love as I have.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

I originally intended this to be the start of a project with a friend of mine in which we each reviewed a literary work or film, me from as US perspective and her from a British one.  However, the idea never really sparked her fancy.  Perhaps, I can persuade Malcolm to take up the Brit role.  Anyway, here is the first review.  If you haven't seen North and South, Netflix it immediately!!!

When I first watched this miniseries, I’ll admit my pervading thought was “Damn, does Richard Armitage EVER do happy?!”  To that point, my only experience of him had been seeing his incredibly depressing and enraging Guy of Gisborne in the BBC Robin Hood series.  I hated him because he made Jonas Armstrong suffer, and I defy anyone to watch that series and not become enamored to Armstrong’s insouciant charm!  Recently, while undergoing an revising of my opinion of Armitage (and as a starting point for this overall blog project), I decided to give this one another go.

I, along with several others it seems, was struck by some strong similarities to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but not exact parallels.  John Thornton, played by Kerrie’s darling Richie, is an emotional reticent rich man much like Austen’s Darcy; however, Thornton is nouveu riche who lacks the polish of even Darcy’s friend, Bingley, as he still actively “works” for his wealth.  And while he does react to some situations with preconceived notions and attitudes, he is for the most part very unlike Darcy.  Thornton is coming to Mr. Hale in order to learn classical languages and literature.  Despite his wealth and position, he still feels the drive to better himself and acknowledges that there are areas where he is lacking.  To my memory, though Darcy admits to be too inflexible in his prejudice toward others at times, he never shows any belief that he needs to improve either his education or his mind.  Granted, Darcy received an excellent education in youth, but Thornton desire to do so as an adult shows him to be a life-long learner.

Margaret Hale, like Elizabeth Bennett, is part of the middle class, but that is where the similarities end.  Hale’s father is a minister, and therefore, is not landed gentry like the Bennetts.  While there are similarities in the continuing decline of finances in both families, the Hales are far worse off than the Bennetts.  Likewise, Margaret shows none of Lizzie Bennett’s charm or good humor.  She comes to Milton full of a snobbish sense of her own superiority, the superiority of her class, and the superiority of her Southern roots.  She finds quickly that she knows little of use for life in Milton, yet pior to her friendship with Bessie, that only reinforces her snobbishness instead of creating a desire to make amends and learn.  It is only her affection for Bessie which makes her changes not any sense of growing respect for the people around her.  In fact, if not for the examples of Bessie and Nicholas and even Thornton, himself, I doubt Margaret would have grown at all.

The overall stories themselves also possess some deep differences.  Gaskill’s North and South is far darker than Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  While both are a send-up of the dangers of inflexible prejudice and the mistakes preconceived notions can produce, Austen’s world is much more rose-tinted.  While Lydia does flirt with many of the issues that plague the lower classes in England, it is largely done off to the side of the main narrative.  Margaret Hale and John Thornton are treading water in the very midst of the storm between classes.  There is no hiding the ugliness and brutishness that often plagues life in Milton.  This may be due to the differences in the times in which they were each written, or may be due to differences in authors themselves and their intentions for writing.

While Pride and Prejudice remains one of my favorites, I think that North and South is a far more powerful story.  It examines the vast inequalities between the masters and workers, but more importantly, does not reinforce the class system of England by encouraging its divisions.  It reinforces the interconnectedness of the classes, the success of each is inexorably tied to the other.  It also focus on shattering the illusions the world of each class is built on and shows the actual world they live in for what it is.  No one is allowed to sweep anything under the rug, like de Bourgh, or whitewash anything, as was done with Lydia.  No one is allowed any comfort even at in success, like the newly wedded Darcys.  Ugliness and brutishness and poverty and destruction will always be there to fight—just from a united front now with the newly wedded Thorntons.

PS.  Much to Kerrie’s everlasting, giggling glee, I am now firmly a member of the Armitage fan camp.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Reflections on Hephaestion's Death

This week saw the death of two celebrities: David Bowie and Alan Rickman.  As often happens in such cases, there was a world-wide outpouring of shock and declarations of respect and love for both the men and their work.  I was not a devoted fan of David Bowie, but didn’t mind his music.  I was not a huge fan of Alan Rickman, as more often than not I found him creepy.  It made me wonder how many of these expressions of sadness and regret over the deaths of these two men were genuine as opposed to what was socially expected.  This got me to thinking about Hephaestion.  

At the time of his death, Hephaestion was second in command to Alexander, a position which could be considered equivalent to today’s celebrity.  One would expect to see the sources tell of a tremendous outpouring of regret, sadness, and grief at his untimely death.  Alexander reacts just as we would expect him to act at the untimely death of his closest and most trusted friend.  He immediately goes into wild, deep mourning refusing to leave the body until he is physically dragged from it three days later.  He cuts his hair as well as the hair of all horses in camp.  He orders the sacred flames of the Zoroastrian temples doused, and immediately applies to the Oracle at Siwah to have Hephaestion declared divine.  He plans a massive funeral and monument.  

No one else really reacts.  We do hear of Eumenes rushing to dedicate some things to the “Divine Hero Hephaestion” at a temple, but little else.  From the others were interacted closely with Hephaestion on a daily basis for ten years, Craterus, Ptolemy, Nearchus, and others, nothing is seen or heard.  We have definite cause to be suspicious of the purity of Eumene’s motives as we learn that shortly before Hephaestion’s death the two men were involved in a quarrel that only ended upon Alexander’s intervention.

So, why?  Why does no one else care that Hephaestion was dead?  I suspect it is the result of a couple of different reasons.  Firstly, Hephaestion was a logistical genius.  This is neither a sexy or high profile job when compared to the military exploits of Alexander or some of his other soldiers.  People love to hear of battlefield heroics, but few rarely care who built a bridge.  They only care that it is operation when they need it, then it is out of mind yet again.  Secondly, Hephaestion was a diplomat.  Diplomacy very rarely involves genuine feelings as it often involves working out agreements between two parties of vastly divergent points of view.  Thirdly, no one was closer Alexander than Hephaestion including his mother, Olympias.  In a time where one’s success and riches depended upon the favorable opinion of one’s monarch or leader, this would incite a certain degree of jealousy.  One can image the scorn that those whose talents lay more in the traditional arena of battlefield heroics might have felt to see someone whose talents lay behind the scenes out of view prosper even ahead of themselves.  I seriously doubt any of Philip’s remaining men had much respect for logistics and administrative duties.  

The sources and many since have implied that Alexander’s reaction to Hephaestion’s death was excessive.  I beg to differ, and a close look at the internet this week will bear that opinion out.  If we can be so upset over the deaths of people we have met only through hearing their music or seeing them appear in a movie or play, how much more upset should we be when faced with the death of someone who was in many ways the other half of ourselves?