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How Pop Culture Helped Me Through My Breakup

In the difficult months following my boyfriend’s disappearance, I’d already uncovered an innate sense that I wanted to surround myself with positive things. I believe that a society’s culture is a window into that society; it reflects our experiences, our hopes, our fears, dreams, intuitions, etc. The key is finding aspects of that culture that will make you better, not worse.

TV: For a while, I couldn’t watch romances. I watched a lot of Law & Order.  But the show that helped me the most was “Charmed.” Yes, “Charmed”! There’s a lot there about trusting your intuition, finding love or finding yourself, when all seems hopeless. In particular, the character of Phoebe (Alyssa Milano) has to learn to trust her intuitions and believe that love will happen for her when it’s supposed to happen. As I was looking ahead to a seemingly endless period of being single, I took particular solace in this.

Film: Two weeks after the breakup, the Sex and the City movie was released. I wrote about it here. The breakup scene, rather than being a trigger, was very well done and thus exceedingly powerful. My decision NOT to be like Carrie was a powerful one.

Another helpful film for me was Shopgirl. The main character’s transition from living life as it happens and falling for an unavailable man, then deciding to give herself freely and receiving love in return, was incredibly helpful. I also found the quiet & slightly ethereal flow of the film incredibly soothing.

Music: This one was hard. I’m a musician, surrounded by music each day, and because of the immense grief I couldn’t stand to hear any music at all for several weeks.

My first return to the world was through the listening of music. Once, on NPR, I heard one of those “new album” reviews. The reviewer described a beautifully sung country song where the singer describes her regret at having left someone who was perfectly fine for her. I related this to my own situation, but in reverse, and my affinity for country music was born.

This was especially poignant, because most pop music (especially R&B) acknowledges romantic pain but offers only misogyny as an anecdote. Hearing singers describe love for their families and their relative happiness was incredibly helpful to me, and I still listen to it.

The album, by the way, was Ashton Shepherd’s Sounds So Good.

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It’s Not Easy Going Green

November 1, 2008 1 comment
Whole Foods

Whole Foods

So I decided to try out the whole “reusable grocery bag” thing that seems to be so trendy these days.

I’m normally irritated by celebrities’ exhortations to “go green,” buy a new, fuel-efficient car, spend more money on foods that don’t last as long, take mass transit when there isn’t any.

I’m not whining, and I’m not trying to avoid the issue — in fact, I think this is the reality of many Americans. How am I supposed to “go green” when it is so inconvenient and, most importantly, I can’t afford it?

Enough “hug your trees” nonsense from upper middle class people who live in cute little non-suburbs and walk to the subway and the grocery store and can get a taxi just by stepping outside. Where are the “go green” suggestions for people like me, people who don’t live on one of the coasts; have no access to mass transit, spend 40 minutes to drive 10 miles to work and have only been in a taxi when it involves the airport?

By the way, if you’re thinking I live in some tiny little town… I don’t, I live in one of the 10 largest cities in the US!

So anyway, I tried the bag thing.

It is inconvenient.

Using them at Whole Foods is no big deal. Everyone expects you to. The only problem there is that the bags are so huge that they are too heavy to carry when they are full. Of course that’s what baskets are for, I guess.

Using them at Walmart was a different matter entirely. The bags are at the front of the store, only on one side, hard to find and difficult for the cashiers to open. Also, since I am usually the only person in the store using these things, I’m constantly worried that I’m going to be stopped by security and searched for bringing several large black bags into the store. And since the bags say “Walmart” and look just like the ones they’re selling, how will they know that I didn’t steal them? So I feel very uncomfortable with them.

I also found that self checkouts aren’t designed for these things. The machine kept telling me not to put things on the scale that I hadn’t paid for. (?!) I just used a plastic bag, stuck it in the reusable bag, and moved on.

And what about the plastic bags? Well, I actually re-used every plastic bag I ever got — I use them for the litter box. When I realized I was completely out of bags, I ran to the pet store and got a pack of 100 tiny plastic bags (actually some sort of biodegradable cornstarch — I swear I’m not going for overkill!) for $10.

The next hurdle is actually remembering to have the bags on hand when I go somewhere. I’ve developed a system of keeping them in the trunk, using them when I run to the store, unloading them, then placing them by the door for the next time I get in the car. So far, it seems to be working.

The point of this is that if you’re going to ask Americans, mainstream, regular “freedom isn’t free” Americans to “go green,” you also have to make it easy. Avoiding certain products, making a “system” for bags and planning extra time and then getting bags for the cat or dog… it’s been a disruption in my routine, and all I’m doing is discontinuing PLASTIC BAGS! And I don’t have any kids or anyone else in my household to deal with.

I think of the families of my students, many of whom are quite poor and just trying to get food on the table, and you want them to worry about plastic bags? In order for people to “go green,” it will have to be accessible and real to them, not the ideal of some lofty, far-away group of people. (I have similar feelings about the food industry and its middle class fetishizing of “organic food” and “eating healthy.”)

I like the bags, myself. I even like the biodegradable cat bags. It is just a new habit to learn.

Pillow People

While I was on one of my aforementioned trips I went to see the film Wall-E. I noticed all those overweight people being depicted as lazy and ignorant and it wasn’t until later that I realized maybe I should be offended.

The “Pillow People,” as I call them, seemed like plot devices to emphasize the film’s “Don’t be lazy!” message. I just didn’t take it all that personally, maybe because there were no thin people for them to play against. Also, my expectations for the depiction of overweight people in Hollywood are pretty low.

I was much more offended that Americans seem to have been the only ones to survive this fictional apocalypse. There is no culture AT ALL in the film’s  post-Earth version of society. It would not have been hard to have the captain translate his directives into more than one language, or do a better job making the humans’ features multi-ethnic. The idea that the only survivors 1,000 years from now will be the all-powerful Americans is kind of offensive. Unless they were trying to say that Americans throw their weight around enough to kill off everyone else and become survivors by force? But if they were trying to say that, why didn’t they address it? My guess is that the film’s creators didn’t think very deeply about either of these things.

Maybe, in this case, we should follow their example. This movie had an overreaching message, but I guess it’s best we don’t think about it too much. It makes my head hurt.

Categories: media, reviews Tags: , ,

What SATC Taught Me About My Breakup

After its release, I waited a whole week before seeing the SATC movie, a choice which made me one of the last women on the planet to have seen the film.

Sex & The City MovieThere are many reviews of the film that basically tell you everything you need to know, so I will just assume you are familiar with the show’s history, the film’s basic plot, and don’t need to be warned of SPOILERS.

As this post’s title suggests, I’m currently grieving a relationship (details to be revealed later), so I think the best parts of the movie were breakup scenes. They were cathartic for me, as big crying scenes are a part of my life these days. I loved the way Carrie’s friends took wonderful care of her. Mr. Big’s abandoning Carrie at the altar made PERFECT sense and was right in line with the type of person he was.

But I was infuriated with two aspects of Carrie’s behavior, and both of them taught me important lessons. When Big proposes marriage, Carrie mealy-mouths her way to an acceptance. She was so afraid of losing the relationship that what should have been a resounding, “YES! I’ll marry you!” turned into, “Well, okay, maybe, if you say so…” From this I learned to not be so afraid of losing a relationship not to say exactly what I want.

And the second of course, is Carrie’s acceptance of Big’s lousy apology and Manolo-shoe proposal. Who would marry someone who continually treated her with disrespect for so long and selfishly subjected her to such humiliation?

Bloggers & movie reviewers alike condemn the film as “unrealistic” and abhor the filmmakers’ choice of ending. But strip away the designers and fantasy income levels, and what you have here are four very real women and four very real stories.

In Samantha’s case, there are absolutely women like this and one is inclined to feel sorry for her boyfriend, Smith. Sometimes, breakups really do happen for no good reason. Smith’s only crime here is choosing to spend five years with a woman so completely unavailable. Miranda’s storyline is similarly realistic.

And then there’s dear Charlotte. Reviewers seem bored by her relentless happiness, but let’s not forget her repeated and devastating heartbreaks: several terrible breakups, a miscarriage & the ongoing grief of extended infertility; a devastating divorce. That she ends up with “everything she always wanted” is even more authentic in light of her earlier life; those of us who are unfailingly optimistic can eventually get everything we dream of. If there’s anyone to emulate in this film, it would be her.

Carrie’s on/off relationship and consistently stupid relationship choices clearly demonstrate what can happen when a woman has a too-low opinion of herself. The filmmakers’ only crime is in presenting Carrie’s ending as a romantic ideal, when in real life Carrie would be harshly questioned by everyone in her life and would most likely lose credibility with her public audience.

For all of us that are grieving, mourning relationships, let Carrie be an example to us. The bravery of enduring a painful breakup and reaching for something better is infinitely better than a fate like hers.

Getting Past Your Past: SATC Cultural Impact Discussion
Love is Dope: SATC Review

Book Review: Eat, Pray, Love

Ms. Gilbert & OprahI picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love several months ago after Amazon’s computers recommended it to me. Makes sense; insightful single woman, recovering from tragedy, travels alone and finds herself.

But a disturbing finding troubled me. I started looking around, and everyone seemed to be reading it. It was on nightstands, in planes, in beauty shops. People everywhere seemed to know about this book. Because guess what, it was on Oprah!

The book’s Oprah-ization meant only one thing: the book was either (a) trite and over-commercialized or (b) a rare moment when the public at large actually pays attention to an intellectual literary achievement. I was hopeful.

It’s a book I was supposed to like, but couldn’t. Elizabeth’s half-assed meandering through the first half of her life was painful to read about. Her first major tragedy in life is, by all accounts, a horribly painful divorce, which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But it appears to have been the result of her own lack of decision-making, something only the most privileged and coddled have to worry about. Who gets to say, “I destroyed lives around me because no one taught me how to make decisions!” and then quit work to take an all-expense paid trip to “deal” with it? I had great difficulty being sympathetic. And when she makes the decision, in the darkest point of her life, not to take her meds, I thought, “From exactly what type of place is this woman coming from? How lucid can she be?” I put the book down.

And so it went, I’d pick up the book, get exasperated, and put it right back down. For three months. I certainly admire Ms. Gilbert in her humility, her healing, her deep appreciation for non-Western cultures. No doubt the journey was integral to who Ms. Gilbert is today, and I congratulate her for that. But the trite writing and the less-than-insightful insights disappointed me.

Sure, maybe I’m just too cynical, too jaded, jealous, even. But I believe that a truly insightful book will involve you, move you beyond your prejudices and really teach you something. This one simply didn’t live up to its considerable hype.

It’s hard for me to find credit in a book that so perfectly ties in to Oprah’s peculiar brand of McSpirituality. On Oprah’s website, Ms. Gilbert’s book has earned its own dedicated section, where you can “tag along on Liz’s quest for happiness and fulfillment that has sparked an inspirational movement!”

Me, I’ll go on my own original journey, thanks.

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Believe it or not, someone even more vapid than Liz read a press release describing the book, and decided to imitate the journey for herself. Unfortunately, she came away from it with more tragedies than epiphanies. In another of three blog entries dedicated to (as they call it) Eat, Pray, Loathe, they seem to agree with me about the absurdity of the plot.