RSS

Monthly Archives: December 2012

This Has Been My Year

Self Improvement 150Looking back on 2012, I don’t think I can point to a single thing that would stand out as a watershed moments. Instead, there are a lot of small memories that I can recall that summarizes my year. Waking up early to write 500 words before work; blearily sitting down on my meditation bench to clear the last of sleep and chaos from my mind; sitting around a table with my friends and watching them get excited about a role-playing game session that I had written. There’s sitting at Chez TJ with Ryan, the love of my life, and sharing incredible food. There’s drinking wine and watching movies at the house of friends, and finally feeling comfortable in their presence.

All in all, this was a really great year. I’ve figured out a lot about myself personally, spiritually, professionally. And that self-knowledge has brought with it a comfort that has proven invaluable. I’ve taken great strides in knowing who I am, becoming comfortable and accepting of that, and using that as a foundation to push myself in so many ways. Because of that, I’ve become more dedicated as a writer, a corporate professional, a husband, a Buddhist, a friend. There’s still a lot of room for improvement, but I’ve been able to let go of the negative impetus for those changes. No longer do I feel like I need to become a better friend because if I don’t I’m a bad person. I feel like I need to become a better friend because doing so makes me a better person.

A lot of that energy has been pointed to cultivating this blog — now that I have the drive and the dedication, the next thing to work on is consistency, and this space provides an excellent opportunity for that. I’ve set goals of updating this space at least three times a week, and I’ve failed quite a bit I must say. That’s okay, though — I’m still a work in progress, and so is this journal. I like to think that the posts here have been enjoyable enough, and that you good folks will stick with me through the New Year while I continue to figure this out.

WordPress was good enough to offer me a year in review for this blog, and it turns out that my biggest post of the year was the one in which I tried to define some sort of standard for furry fiction. I got a lot of great feedback on that one, and it inspired some really passionate debate on Twitter, on the blog, and in private messages. I’m still processing the opinions of other people, and I think my views on it have changed somewhat since I’ve made the post, but I’m still a very big fan of people being more mindful with their writing. Even if the piece they’re working on is fluff of the lightest order, I think it can only help to try and pay attention to what you’re writing and the effect it will have on your audience.

Another thing that I’ve been trying very hard to pay attention to is the effect what I say has on the people around me. I try to do this without arrogance — I don’t expect that people are going to have their lives changed by whatever I do, but I do know that my presence and actions have an effect on the people around me. And I want to make sure that effect is as positive as possible. When I’m in disagreement with someone, or when I’m trying to talk about a subject where emotions are bound to run high, I’ve tried my best to be as mindful of the feelings and opinions of my audience as possible. Not only does it help you to get your point across more effectively, but it really does foster a sense of compassion in you. I want this blog to be a ‘safe space’ to talk about difficult things respectfully and frankly, where we can have strong, passionate discussions and still view one another in high regard. Engaging with people is important to fostering a sense of community, and doing that is important to me.

I’ve gotten tired of people who speak as though they’re in a vacuum, that have no regard for the people they’re talking to or the things that they say. It’s bred a terrible state of discourse in our society, where the point of the argument is not to find a way to navigate a common problem, but to score points with wit or volume. Nothing gets solved that way. Someone just walks away feeling smug or stupid, entrenched and clinging to their opinions regardless of whether or not they’re right. It’s very important to loosen your hold on what you think is true, to allow for the possibility of error. Other people who hold different beliefs aren’t any less intelligent or more evil than you, for the most part. It helps to believe that they came to their beliefs somehow, and to try and understand (and respect) that process. Even if it’s riddled with holes, even if they’re terribly mistaken, respecting the other person’s experience is the first step towards working with them to correct it.

Anyway, I’ve gotten off track on this year-end review. I feel like I’ve cut a good place for myself in my professional life, my fandom life, my life in general. I look forward to nurturing that place next year, reinforcing my priorities and working to make myself a better person.

For the first time in a very long time, I feel like my footing is sure. I can make progress with a solid understanding of where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

Happy New Year to all of you. I hope this year has brought you a number of good lessons, and you can use what you’ve learned to make next year even better.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Self-Reflection

 
Image

Chimeral Art: Matthew, by TommiCat

matthew-forever

This is an absolutely wonderful surprise I received after writing “Matthew Prepares for His Birth”. A good friend of mine, a furry artist by the name of Tommi Cat, slipped this in my inbox a couple of days after I posted. I really love the use of shadow to convey mood, and it’s a really nice surprise that he interpreted Matthew as black — the texture of the hair is so wonderful here it’s easy for me to imagine how he feels as he pushes his fingers through it.

The response to the Chimeral World has been really decent so far; I wasn’t expecting quite the feedback it’s gotten. I’ll have to add it to the list of settings I’ll be messing around in while I’m putting together a good story for it.

Thanks so much, Tommi. I really appreciate this!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 28, 2012 in Furries

 

Tags: , ,

Sleepwalkers Fiction: The Balance

Writing 150Prescott’s ear twitched as he looked down at the paper before him. He had written words and numbers on it, all laid out in a nice little chart. The source of income or expense in the far left column, and money going into his bank account in the middle one. At the far end went all the money that left his bank account for whatever reason, from the beginning of the month until now. At the bottom, the balance in his checking account, as it stood now: $-87.33.

He stroked his nose, from the twitching tip up to the top of his eyes. It soothed him to be petted, even if he was the one doing the petting. And right now, it was the only thing keeping him from having a small panic attack in front of all these nice people inside Zia’s Cafe on Allegheny. He double-checked and triple-checked the numbers. It simply couldn’t be right.

His phone buzzed. He plucked it carefully and read the text message displayed on its screen. Now I know why you wanted me to buy you lunch.

Prescott looked up and gave the man sitting across from him his best disapproving stare. When you were a six-foot tall walking rabbit, that only worked so well. Vitaly merely smiled back at him, hunched in his comically undersized chair, cradling the comically undersized phone in his massive hands.

To each other, they looked as they truly were. Prescott was the perfect blend of rabbit and man, with big brown expressive eyes, oversized buck-teeth hidden under a blunt and boxy muzzle, a thick coat of white fur covering his entire body. He favored baggy jeans and a light sweater this time of year; his fur was more than enough to keep him warm, but he couldn’t walk around naked when most people couldn’t see that he was keeping modest. Vitaly was an enormous blue troll of a man, thick white hair forming a mane that nearly hid the small horns and pointed ears that still managed to poke through. He had an underbite to match Prescott’s overbite, thick, sharp canines jutting up from his lower lip. He wore simple and sturdy clothing, blown up large to contain the impossible, ancient strength that was his birthright. He had learned restraint by living in a world made far too small for him, and had come to have the patience of mountains.

To the cafe’s other patrons, they were merely an eccentric couple — a hulking man who was constantly texting, and a strange younger fellow carrying out what looked to be a one-sided conversation. They came here together every Wednesday. The smaller man ordered for the larger one, and he had an odd, jokey way of talking. It was simultaneously hilarious and frustrating.

Prescott rarely told the truth outright after he came upon his true nature. It was the birthright of his kind, apparently, and it made simple conversations rather interesting affairs more often than not. He did his best to at least make it entertaining to decipher the truth, but that only went so far and inevitably people got fed up with trying to puzzle him out. Vitaly was the only person who knew what he was getting at most of the time, and that was an immeasurable relief to him. In exchange, he served as the troll’s translator so his muteness wouldn’t make things weird for anyone. They were the best of friends, and they fought often enough to prove it.

Today, Prescott was too nervous about his bank account to really give Vitaly a good rejoinder. “Ha. Very funny. I’m overdrawn in the first place because I bought lunch for you last week. You could have stopped after your tenth sandwich, you big ox.”

It was a lie, and they both knew it. Vitaly simply smirked and tapped away on his undersized phone. It was nothing short of magic that he was able to type anything with those fingers the size of soda cans. I know I could have. But it was more fun watching you sweat.

Prescott allowed himself a small smile. “If you think it’s fun watching me sweat, you have a pathetic and incredibly boring life.”

Vitaly shrugged, then ate the last quarter of his sandwich in one quick bite. Prescott looked down at his balance sheet and sighed. His ears folded as he thought about the bills he still had to pay. Money had never been his strong suit.

“I have everything under control, of course. My student loans are well in hand, and so are the utilities, and I certainly won’t make a late fee on the credit card. I know you think the negative in front of my balance looks bad, but really, it couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m in excellent shape.” Prescott’s heart raced as he thought about it. Where could he get the money?

His phone buzzed. Is no worries. I give you $500 now, and you pay me back over time, OK?

Prescott looked up, stunned. “But you make even less than I do. I mean, you’re practically a peasant! Where did you get that kind of money?”

Savings. I save while you buy video games and hair dryers and what not. This is interest-free loan, pay back when you can. But I help you budget your money, yeah?

The rabbit’s whiskers and ears lifted. “I don’t see what help you could possibly be, but I suppose it couldn’t be the worst thing.”

No, worst thing is borrowing money from Brendon. He lords it over you until the end of time. Lucky for you, it’s just me. Vitaly smiled, then reached over and grabbed the other half of Prescott’s sandwich in those big fingers. The troll sniffed it, made a face, and then ate it anyway.

Prescott snickered and rolled his eyes. It’s amazing how money in one’s bank account could lift your spirits. “Arrogant grand-standing is far better than some lummox eating you out of house and burrow, that’s for sure.”

They both laughed, then, Prescott loud enough for the two of them.

(This week’s prompt was balance, and I wanted to take it to a different place than most people would have thought of. Balancing a checkbook can be rather boring, but…I thought for these two it would fit rather well.

Prescott and Vitaly are two of the Three, a group of characters who find new Sleepwallkers and help them with the realization of their true nature. I really love the idea that they both find basic communication challenging for various reasons, and rely on each other to make things a bit easier. Prescott is the mouthpiece for the group, and all the twists and turns and verbal rabbit-holes can be useful in their line of work. When he needs to be earnest, he can trust Vitaly to decipher what he’s actually trying to say. Vitaly, for his part, can’t speak at all. For him, those tiny cell phones are a god-send. Also, I never get tired of seeing giant people trying to use tiny gadgets.

That being said, trying to figure out how Prescott and Vitaly actually speak to one another — and to ‘civilians’ around them — is a bit of a challenge. I know that I’m not a good enough writer to really pull it off yet, so I want to get in a lot of practice. They’re fun to write, anyway, so expect to read a lot of these guys in the future.)

 
 

Tags: , ,

Short Fiction: Expansion of the End

Writing 150When Preston regained consciousness, his body sang a chorus of pain. He was under something heavy that trapped his right side, and his neck was tilted at an angle that sent a shock of nerves from his cheek clear down to his left hand. He could feel that his face was covered with something hot and sticky, and he could smell blood through all the dust and char. His stomach was a knot. There was a blossom of pain below his right knee, but below that his leg was worryingly cold, numb. If he moved, whatever was on top of him shifted and conjured fresh pain. He moved anyway.

The desk that had collapsed on top of him moved reluctantly, but eventually it did. Preston rose into a room that could barely be called that anymore. Any sense of order had been shattered along with the windows, along with the walls. There was rubble everywhere, the desk one of many things that had been thrown across the room and smashed against the walls before they crumbled. He picked his way out of the small pile of rubble that had fallen on top of him. It hurt him to put weight on his right leg, but he couldn’t feel his foot beneath it.

There were the remains of his laptop on the floor, and the filing cabinet had vomited its contents through the exposed walls of his corner home office. The shards of broken glass that littered everything caught and reflected the light of fire burning inside the room — inside his house — and whatever was raging outside. He coughed when he noticed it, and he felt his eyes and throat burning with the coat of soot and smoke. He dragged himself out of the remains of his house and into the rubble-strewn lawn beyond. Preston knew he had to get out of here.

The house was in a good neighborhood, a suburb ten miles outside of the city. There were good schools here, and the neighbors were all young families who had bought into the American dream. A couple expecting their first child bought the house to the left of his. The manager of an insurance company bought the house to his right. He had a family — his wife made clothes and sold them on the Internet, and their children went to a nearby high school. He had no idea where they were, but as he looked back to see the burning remains of his house he saw the houses of his neighbors rolling with fire, pouring smoke into the air. It made a loud, roaring, popping sound, and the smoke hissed as it joined the immense cloud that hung over everything.

The houses across the street were blown into the street. The only light came from the fire that was consuming his entire neighborhood. The sky was black and solid and low. Preston dimly recalled that before he lost consciousness, he was in a 10 AM teleconference with clients in Europe. There was a flash, and then a ringing in his ears, and then darkness.

He looked up and down his street. There were other shocked people dragging themselves out of the wreckage of their lives, like him, with tattered clothing and bloodied faces. They were moaning, or screaming, or silent. He couldn’t tell who they were, but he felt the instinctual need to avoid them all the same. They stared at him, too, like they had no idea who he was.

He shuffled down the block, towards a small group of people at an intersection. The road sloped gently down now, and on clear days you could see the sprawling suburban neighborhoods, all the way down to the highway that circled the city proper. All he saw now was a world razed by fire, the ashes it made floating through the air.

“What happened?” He heard someone say. The voice startled him.

“Nuclear bomb.” Someone else answered. “Hit the city right in the middle. I saw the mushroom cloud go up before…before the blast wave hit.”

Preston heard that ringing in his ears again. It grew louder, more distinct. A nuclear bomb? In the city? His wife was in there. Nora. Jacob was with her. They were…they were in that.

His right leg wobbled, and he toppled entirely. The world dimmed to a mass of black and yellow. And then there was darkness again.

(The Thursday Prompt for this bit of fiction was “ashes”. I immediately thought of ashes drifting through the air and an entire city on fire from some calamity, because my brain will conjure up post-apocalyptic images if given half the chance.

What I wanted to do with this is set a nesting doll of scenes; we begin with Preston’s consciousness, awareness of his own body, and then expand out to ever-increasing circles. The room he’s in, his house, his neighborhood, the city. Eventually — and I think this happens with everyone — you lose the ability to comprehend the enormity of an event or the community you’re a part of. Having him lose consciousness at the end is a bit of a copout, but I like the way it bookends the action. Besides, if I were in that situation, I’m pretty sure I’d do the exact same thing.)

 
1 Comment

Posted by on December 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Short Fiction: No Man’s Land

Writing 150(This is what I came up with for a Thursday prompt two weeks ago, boundaries. I wanted to return to Matthew from my previous story and see how he was doing after the transformation was complete. This story doesn’t end so much as stop, and I’ll need to take a couple more stories to focus specifically on endings. But for now, here’s the story.)

“There it is. That’s the edge of the reservation.” Kikkitik gestured with one long forearm towards the unassuming low fence they were walking towards. Matthew was surprised by its modesty; it was a simple wooden post fence, lined with wires that may or may not be electric. It stretched over the plain that served as the outside edge of the chimeral reservation, as far as he could see to the north and south. It couldn’t have been higher than three feet. He could have stepped over it easily, and Kikkitik could simply crawl over it herself. There was a dirt road just beyond it, and beyond that a slope that lead to more grassland. They stopped thirty feet before they reached the boundary. Matthew knew Kikkitik wanted no part of it, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to flirt with it, either.

He had been on the reservation for nearly a month now, but this was the first time he had taken the tour. There were a number of reasons he didn’t want to leave the confines of the small compound that served as their home, but one by one Kikkitik had resolved them. She was patient and steady with him, and it was the least he could do to reward that effort with the walk around the ground she had been pushing for. That didn’t mean he was ready to face the world beyond the reservation just yet, though. Expanding the world he was in was adventurous enough.

He had changed and lost everything he knew. Right now, he was a hulk of a creature, nine feet tall with the solid and shaggy build of a bear. His head was a mixture of bear and beaver, oversized incisors and prominent canine teeth in a boxy, short muzzle. His ears were broad and long, his nose was large and sensitive, his eyes were dark and small. It took him several weeks to navigate the vast gulf between his old body and his new one, and even now he was unsure of how things worked. He shouldn’t be able to talk with the strange shape of his mouth, or the teeth that were too large or small and in all the wrong places. But he spoke anyway.

“I was expecting something more.” He heard his voice, deep and rich and rolling. He sounded like the noble warrior from a fantasy movie. It didn’t suit him.

Kikkitik’s mandibles clacked together several times, making a thick and heavy knock-knock-knock-knock sound that he had learned was laughter. “Most people do. But it doesn’t take much to keep us in here, or the rest of the world out there. Both groups decided they’d rather stick to their own kind a long time ago.”

“Mmm.” Matthew turned to look at her. She was something out of most people’s nightmares, the unholy cross of a praying mantis and a millipede blown up to vehicular-sized proportions. Out of all the chimera on the reservation, she was easily the most unnerving. But she was quiet and thoughtful, patient and pragmatic. She had carried him through his transition to reservation life, kicking and screaming. He now considered her his best friend. “I’m not sure that’s such a good thing. It’s only a matter of time before one of us gets tired of tolerant isolation.”

She looked down at him, her antennae waving consideringly. “That may be. But for now, this works. We have time and space to consider who and what we are.”

“And it gives them time to figure out that they don’t want us around, whatever it is we decide we are.”

Kikkitik knocked once. “So untrusting.” She was practicing her vocal inflection, he could tell. It didn’t quite convey the amusement she had been aiming for, but it carried across enough that he knew what she was trying to do.

He grinned at her in the way he learned, opening his jaws, sticking his tongue out over his lower incisors. It was his best approximation, but it still didn’t look quite right. The instinctive reaction made it look like he was snarling far too much. “Have you watched the news? Chimera aren’t exactly being embraced out there.”

“I don’t watch television anymore, no. It makes me feel too weird. I guess I haven’t seen anyone hating us yet. I’ve only seen them.” She nodded, and stretched out a forearm as far as it would go. Matthew followed her gaze, over the fence and down into the small valley to the east.

His eyesight had gotten a lot worse, but his hearing and smell had gotten a lot better. He lifted his nose to the wind and sniffed, then swiveled his ears in the direction she pointed. He caught the scent of gasoline, sun-baked metal, and people. He heard the hum of generators and idle chatter too distant to make out clearly. He could barely make out the speck of sunlight glinting off a metallic surface, too, but that didn’t tell him nearly as much as his nose and ears did.

“Who are they?” he rumbled.

“They’re people who’ve gone out of their way to contact us. When they see us near the boundaries of the reservation, they hold up signs telling us we’re welcome and still thought of as people.” Kikkitik chittered. Matthew had no idea what that meant.

Matthew had no idea what to think about those people at the bottom of that shallow hill, either. Immediately his mind conjured images of those kooks outside of Roswell or Area 51, welcoming aliens and asking to be lifted to higher states of consciousness. Did those people think of him as something more than human? Did they think his transformation had given him any answers to life’s questions? He wanted to run down there, just to tell him that he was as scared and confused as the next man. He didn’t have any answers. He barely had any friends.

“That’s kind of nice,” was all he said.

Kikkitik chittered, then turned away from the fence to begin the long walk back to the compound. “Give it time,” she said. “People are always freaked out by the things they’ve never encountered before. And right now, we’re just on the edge of what they know. They just need time to absorb that.”

Matthew was silent, but he fell into step beside her. Whenever he had to jog, he had to fight the urge to fall to his hands and run on all fours. He had his doubts about her optimistic view, but he hoped she was right. That small fence made an effective boundary between their worlds right now, but it wouldn’t hold forever. Sooner or later, human and chimera would need to deal with each other.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Thursday Prompt, Writing

 

Tags: , ,

Movie Review: Melancholia

Entertainment 150Melancholia (2011)
Starring Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsborough and Kiefer Sutherland
Written and Directed by Lars von Trier

Lars von Trier is one of those directors with a distinct, uncompromising vision. You get the feeling when you see one of his movies that every shot is exactly the way he wanted it to look, and every word is what he wanted you to hear. He is a director with an intimate knowledge of storytelling through movies, and every film he makes is essentially a direct communication from the artist to his audience. He aims to be obtuse, as clearly as possible.

This makes a lot of his movies simultaneously fascinating and impossible. I think critics love him because he uses movies to push people, to confront them with ideas about the world that make them uncomfortable. It’s rare that someone can pull a fast one on audience these days; we love to pick things apart, and love or hate it we typically know exactly what a director is trying to do. With von Trier, even though you can guess the through-line of any movie he leaves big enough gaps that make you question what he means by certain things.

With Melancholia, the entire opening sequence presents itself as a puzzle of surrealist images that you’re not quite sure about even after the movie is over. What’s the deal with the 19th hole? Why do we see the same characters in vastly different places, doing wildly different things? How far does the metaphor go — all the way to the immense blue planet that’s causing birds to drop from the sky, two shadows to fall on the ground, electricity to rise into the air? How much of this stuff matters to understanding the rest of the movie? Even after stewing on it a few days, it’s hard to tell.

As near as I can figure, though, Melancholia is a movie about two different sisters dealing with two different disasters. In the first part, Justine (Dunst) looks to be a happy newlywed with an incredibly blessed life. She just married Eric Northman from True Blood, she was promoted to Art Director at the advertising firm she works in, and her wedding reception is an incredibly high-end affair at her brother-in-law’s (Sutherland) golf course and resort.

As the night goes on, however, things are systematically deconstructed to reveal the horrible truth underneath. Justine suffers from crippling depression that makes her unable to function with those closest to her on what should be her happiest day. Her boss is a controlling tyrant who hires his nephew on the condition that he hounds Justine for the tagline of a new campaign throughout the night. If he doesn’t get it, he’s fired. Her brother-in-law doesn’t think much of Justine or her squabbling, eccentric parents — he’s only interested in making sure she knows how much money he’s spent on this affair and how ridiculous she’s being.

And to be fair, Justine is fairly ridiculous. She frequently slips away from the reception at inopportune moments to be alone, making the tightly-scheduled affair run off track. Her harried sister and doting husband do everything they can think of to make her happy, and she gives them only the mask of gratitude in return. She pisses on her brother-in-law’s golf course and cheats on her husband with the assistant hired specifically to harass her. By the time the sun rises on the uncomfortably dark night, she’s ruined everything that’s been given to her — her job, her fledgling marriage, her relationship with her family. Justine is one of the most unlikable main characters I’ve seen in a long time, but I can’t help but feel a deep sympathy for her.

Why? Because I identify with that level of depression. When you’re in a hole that deep, you go a little crazy — even if you realize what you’re doing you feel unable to stop yourself. Your sense of perspective breaks down, and you stop thinking about long-term consequences, or how other people might feel. The only thing that matters is easing the pain as much as possible so you can make it to the next moment. It doesn’t matter how destructive an act you’re perpetrating; if it eases your suffering, then it’s fair game. In some ways, it’s better if what you do makes a mess of things. Crazy, broken people don’t deserve nice things and the pressures that come with them. In some ways, having nothing means being burdened by nothing, and laying down your burdens is the only thing worth doing in a deep depression.

In the second part, Claire is preparing for the arrival of Justine at the bottom of her spiral and the rogue planet Melancholia, also reaching the end of its journey. According to the scientists, the planet should fly by Earth in a few days, stealing some of its atmosphere but doing no lasting harm. Claire’s husband John is annoyed by her fears about Melancholia and Justine’s melancholy, and he spends most of the time being curt with both of them. Of course, it turns out that the planet is going to hit Earth after all, and Justine, Claire and John must deal with the reality that the world will end.

Here is the tragedy of the movie. John responds in the most despicable and cowardly way possible, and his reaction is hardly worth mentioning here. I can definitely sympathize with his impulse — his actions inspired a fairly long conversation between Ryan and I — but the way he does it makes it one of the most selfish things I’ve ever seen. It leaves Claire completely alone to face the horror of what’s coming, along with her young son.

Justine responds to the news with a calm, fatalistic detachment. Claire must deal with what’s happening completely alone, while struggling with how to handle the news with her son. Justine is of no help; when Claire asks that they do something “nice” for the end to distract themselves away from it, her sister mocks her and calls her plan a “piece of shit”.

With the end coming, we see Justine and Claire grow increasingly isolated. Justine has retreated away from the world and into her depression a long time ago; the absolute end of everything just represents the ultimate laying down of her burdens. Claire can’t reach out to anyone, and with no outlet for her pain and bewilderment she simply falls apart. It’s an awful thing to watch, but it also illustrates the true price of depression.

I don’t mean to say that depressed people suck and inconvenience the lives of the people around them. That would be a horrible thing to say and simply add to the feeling of unbearable burden that depressed people must carry with them. But I do think that depression is a condition that takes you away from the world and puts you in a hell of your own making. At its worst, it forces you to withdraw inward so deeply that your view of the world is incredibly warped. Everything loops back to the pain you feel, and you begin to grow so sensitive to it that you shut down to avoid it.

It’s an awful feeling. During a scene where Claire has to physically drag Justine into the bathroom to wash her, my heart broke for both of them. I can empathize with what Justine is going through in that moment; just the motion of taking a step or lifting your leg might cause something to break within you that you just can’t handle. But I also feel terrible for Claire; she’s devoting so much time and energy to a person who is incapable of appreciating it, or of helping herself. It’s a thankless and difficult job, and no one recognizes the work she’s doing or the sacrifices she’s made.

By the end of the movie, Justine, Claire and her son on a hill as the planet approaches. They hold hands as the sky is filled with intense blue light and the wind begins to roar around them. But the final image is something that I’ll never forget — Justine, serene in her withdrawal, closes her eyes and accepts her fate. She’s completely oblivious to her sister’s suffering; Claire is rocking back and forth, her eyes squeezed shut and her hands over her ears when the blast wave hits. She had to bear the terror of her last moments alone, even though she was surrounded by family.

Even though Justine is presumably the main character, I feel like the movie is really Claire’s. And my reaction to the movie is entirely personal, drawn by my own experiences. I think back to all of the people who’ve tried to drag me from my worst depressions, the people who sacrificed time and effort to bring me up. I think about all of the people that I’ve disappointed, hurt and abandoned because my depression had made me too self-focused to see what I was doing. All of them become Claire, wild with need and suffering, closing their eyes in pure terror. It’s a terrible thing to know that there are so many people who love so freely and are ignored and unappreciated.

I know I’m not Justine, but I’ve been Justine. And Melancholia paints an uncompromising portrait of what depression looks like to other people, what it does to the people who suffer it and the people around them. It makes me feel a deep sympathy for everyone stuck in that situation. And it makes me glad that it’s over.

Rating: 8/10.

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Meditating Everywhere

Buddhism 150It’s taken me a very long time to understand what meditation is for. When I first started to practice, I assumed that the time I’d spend on the bench was in preparation for something else. By sitting down and counting my breath (one-in-out-two-in-out) my brain was being molded in a way that would manifest elsewhere. I assumed that meditation was a ritual, and that like most magic it would work in ways I wasn’t looking for, that it would surprise me with its effectiveness when I needed it to. An incredibly stressful situation would arise, and suddenly I would get through it with grace, focus and clarity without knowing how it happened. One day, just like Neo in The Matrix, my eyes would open and I would simply see everything for what it is. Instead of lines of code, I would see another person, sharing the same air that I was, wanting the same things I did, no different from me at all. I’d put in the time, and there would be a reward later, a mysterious effect disconnected from its cause by time and thought.

That’s a completely shitty idea. I know that now, of course, but I didn’t then. It took me a few years of sporadic meditation to understand that meditation isn’t a preparation for anything. It’s an act, it’s *doing*, and that you’re expected to take the focus and awareness you cultivate on the bench and carry it with you through your day. Meditation isn’t a ritual that pays dividends down the line — it’s the beginner’s version of how Buddhists are expected to move through life itself.

It can’t start out any easier. You simply sit down, and pay attention. The ideal thing is to pay attention to whatever is happening in the moment without attaching to it; when you attach to it, the thought carries you away from the present along a stream of associated thoughts and moods. When that happens, let it go, then return to where you are. It takes practice to maintain that presence, but the idea is that when you do you find yourself responding to what arises in a much more centered way. And the bench isn’t the only place where this happens. Meditation is a practice you can cultivate wherever you are, whatever you’re doing.

That’s one of the things I’ve been trying to focus on recently. My meditation practice is as spotty as ever, I’m afraid (I’ve never been one to develop good habits), but even when I don’t manage to sit on the bench I’ve been trying to really pay attention to what I’m doing when I do it. If I catch myself getting stressed at work, I take a moment to step back from that emotion, figure it out and move on. It really helps when you’re dealing with anxious or angry customers I’ve found; instead of taking a remark or behavior and being carried away by it, I can try to anchor myself and focus on a need that’s being expressed.

And that’s a huge deal to me. I come from a long life of depression, which is a pretty self-centered condition to have. You get used to thinking in circles around yourself; everything comes back to you, how you’re deficient in some way, how no one could ever love you, so forth and so on. Even managing it, it’s difficult to learn to step outside of yourself if you don’t work for it. That’s what meditation does for me; it provides me a way to step outside of myself, simply by being active in my awareness and focusing on my surroundings, other people, or feelings as they arise and fade. That helps me relate to people better, it helps me solve problems more quickly and easily, and it helps me to understand people and their perspectives without warping it through my own.

One of the reasons I’m talking about this is to try and explain my perspective in the hopes of encouraging people to explain theirs. Meditation helps me quite a bit, but I know a lot of people really aren’t into it. I’m curious about what other folks think about it — is it useful to you, if you practice regularly? Did you try it for a while, but find no good use for it? What do you do instead, if you have something that centers you? How does it work?

I think it’s important to have a way to remember the things that are important for you, no matter who you are and what you believe. Meditation is mine. What’s yours?

 
2 Comments

Posted by on December 10, 2012 in Buddhism, Self-Reflection

 

Tags: , , ,