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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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Rachel Getting Married [And She Needs a Therapist]

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I saw Rachel Getting Married, and I agree with critics that it’s a well-done film–just DON’T SIT IN THE FRONT ROW. We were sick for two hours after the film, due to the horribly shaky camera work. (A Steadicam, please!)

Anne Hathaway is great as Kym, the addictive “star” of the family, whose erratic behavior threatens to upstage Rachel’s wedding. The film is great, but I love that it highlights that the addict isn’t by herself in her problems. The whole family suffers from whatever makes Kym who she is. The film is especially brilliant in its depiction of these themes without beating viewers over the head with them.

I’ve known a couple families of addicts, and everyone seems to act like it’s “their” problem, to be hush-hushed about and rarely discussed. This is the biggest lie there is. There are all kinds of dynamics at work, from the “star” relishing his/her “addict” role to the other family members who get off on being the “healthy” ones. I also see this every time I watch “Intervention” although admittedly, I don’t watch it very often. After the episode where the mom regularly served drinks to her alcoholic daughter, that was it for me, really.

Hopefully the newer, more enlightened approach to addiction treatment recognizes a need to treat the *whole family,* not just the addict.

Categories: family, television Tags: ,

I’m in shock…

OBAMA!

“Put a Ring On It”

October 25, 2008 3 comments

I’ve always admired dancers for their ease of movement and the way they always seem intimately aware of & comfortable with their bodies.

I’m entranced by Dancer554 (aka “Shane”) and his interpretation of Beyoncé’s latest, “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” It’s amazing! Apparently seduced by the virtuosic, Fosse-inspired choreography of the original, several dance enthusiasts have posted their homages. But Shane, apparently a professional dancer, is the best. And contrary to some of the comments, I love the outfit!

Beyoncé has always graced us with her “Independent Woman” persona, which exudes an impossible self-esteem (in this song, she has the wherewithal to go dancing right after a breakup!) and a constant “all-about-me” assertiveness, which is attractive to those of us who have been known to give a little too much.

It’s a sharp contrast to her very blase “admission” of her marriage to Jay-Z, where she seems to dismiss the whole idea of a wedding or of newly wedded bliss. Why hide the happiness? Wouldn’t the “Miss Independent” of her songs be overjoyed at finally having the love & commitment that she deserves?

Who are we to know what’s in Beyoncé’s head or heart? Either way, “Put a Ring On It” is a fair response to R&B’s rampant mysogynistic lyrics and society’s celebration of commitmentphobic men. Apparently, the song’s protagonist has given three years of her life to yet another guy who wouldn’t move things along (maybe he used the oh-so-ubiquitous “just a piece of paper” argument).

I’ll confess: this type of guy, the “piece of paper” guy, has been a figure that haunted my nightmares for years. I was always worried that I’d get “stuck” with one. You know the type; the one who wants to “live together” indefinitely and have you do everything a married woman would — except be married. The one who says, “I’m not quite ready yet” — and says it for a million years in a row.

This fear remained with me until I , Beyoncé-style, experienced a surge of self-esteem and fearlessness, and realized that being with one of these guys has nothing to do with “waiting for love” and everything to do with rejecting his fear and selfishness, and acknowledging my worth as a woman worth committing to.

A great deal of relationship turmoil forced me to realize that it’s my choice whether or not to be reeled in by one of these Mr. Big types (who, on the surface, usually seem perfectly fine). Loneliness is uncomfortable, but it’s usually just temporary and preferable to being stuck in this endless loop. And if I do end up with a guy like that, you can be sure I’ll be singing this song on my way out the door.

You’ve got to be kidding.

August 12, 2008 1 comment

Black is Black is Black…

A friend asked me today if I ever was called names growing up, since I, an “articulate” classical pianist, never quite met the “definition” of what a black person should be.

Yes, of course! I was called all manner of names–sellout, oreo, whitewash, etc. etc. It’s an interesting form of sub-racism, one which has come up more than ever, now that Mr. Obama is in the limelight and forcing us to confront our stereotypes.

I am so tired of the “Are you black enough?” issue, probed extensively in articles like this one following the “Black in America” CNN special.

The problem is that the question is being asked in the first place. Both whites and blacks who feel the need to ask if us non-traditional folk are “black enough” are victims of the greater stereotype. Blacks who define themselves by stereotypes are especially tragic, since, as Michael Dyson says, they are “subjugating themselves–” limiting their own possibilities based on a severely narrow and self-defeating definition. By even implying that there is a “definition” of blackness, you are acknowledging that definition and, therefore, empowering it.

I have dealt with racism literally all my life (I was first called the *n* word in preschool at age 3). I understand it and continue to deal with it on a daily basis. But the most painful racism is the kind that comes from the one group of people who should understand most.

Too Much Grief, Then Too Little

Jack Schafer’s post in today’s Slate Magazine bemoans the coverage of Tim Russert’s recent and sudden death, complaining of the “televised wake” that has pre-empted news coverage on all the major networks for the past several days.

After listing the litany of tributes and whining about all the attention paid to the late Mr. Russert, Mr. Schafer brags about having reluctantly written an article for a friend of his who is now dearly departed. “And the piece,” he sneers, “was only 1200 words.”

Of course, I’m no journalist, but I’m a viewer, and the tributes on television are helpful to me, surely much more heartfelt and honest journalism than the crap news reporting we are usually subject to.

Obviously, some of the excess is due to the shock of Mr. Russert’s death. It’s well known among grief specialists that sudden deaths are more immediately traumatic than deaths following long illnesses. Even the funerals are different; a very long illness might cause one’s friends to slowly fall away; less people may be present at the funeral of someone who “finally died.” But sudden deaths provoke an outpouring of shock and grief. We idealize the lost person, and we are openly (and some say, more justifiably) devastated.

In America, we don’t have a culture of grief. We don’t wear black dresses or armbands here. Wailing and weeping is not encouraged, as it is in other places. People suppress their feelings and are then described as “so strong” and commended on how “well” they are dealing with the loss. I have been reminded of this repeatedly, as I have lost several friends & relatives.

It seems to me that this coverage is therapeutic–not just to those who knew Mr. Russert, but for all of us. Maybe celebrity deaths, and the accompanying journalistic coverage, is the American way of dealing with loss. It’s not an armband, but it certainly helps to contrast with all that Law & Order, Grand Theft Auto style pretend-death we are surrounded with.

Even if we didn’t know Mr. Russert or even watch his shows, the suddenness of his death brings mortality home for all of us. Following the coverage gives us a chance to honor this, to take comfort in the family we have right now and appreciate the fragility of life.

Unfortunately Mr. Schafer’s article reveals more about himself than about the “overdone grief.” He and other journalists who complain are missing the point, wondering what all the fuss is for when Tim Russert is already gone.

But funerals, as even Mr. Schafer must surely realize, are for the living.