Thursday, March 29, 2012

The A-ha Moments

There are some things that once you experience them the first time, you can never quite replicate that original thrill.  The biggest example I can think of is seeing the Star Destroyer cruise into the frame for the first time in Star Wars.  Remember that?  Didn't you just stop whatever you were doing - bringing a handful of popcorn out of the bucket, taking a sip of your pop, still situating yourself in your seat, whatever it was - and let yourself just totally be blown away?  You can try and relive it and there are other highlight moments to enjoy about it:  the first time you show it to your kids, seeing it on Blu-Ray, and so on.  But nothing really compares to that first time you sat down in the theatre, not really knowing what to expect and that's what George Lucas gives you in the opening minute of the film.   I probably was initiated as a Star Wars nerd for life, hook, line and sinker, right at that very moment.

There are other moments that are simply once in a lifetime moments that take you by storm and change you at your core.  On the one side of those events your life was one way, but only an eye blink later, things have forever been altered.  Not always for the better, but sometimes so.  We probably all have them.  What are some of yours?  Probably a lot of people would say the first time they were proposed to.  Sadly, that would not be one of mine.  I have no distinct memory of that moment.  And I never really did.  It's like we came to a business arrangement just somewhere along the line, and I seem to remember that I probably pressured Greg a bit; I was a little older, had been on my own for a while and was ready for the next phase.  Of course, looking back on it I know now that it is not about where I was in my life that mattered, it is about where we both were, but I thought I was mature back then as opposed to really being that way so I probably assumed it was best for him, and I somehow was divested with the wisdom to know what that was.  Anyway, I digress...  Probably everyone flashed to the collective moment we all share:  watching the World Trade Towers go down in flame and smoke  and knowing the world we relied upon and our sense of our own security within it was now irrevocably changed.

But in consideration of my own question, without that marriage proposal thing to fall back on and not wanting to trot out the first time someone laid each of my daughters in my arms, because that goes without saying, I immediately ticked off a series of searingly sad/dramatic moments that have taken place over the last few years.  All of course leading up to the biggest life changer of all:  the knock on the hotel door that led me to be face-to-face with that young, miserable looking West Virginia trooper - wanting so clearly and so badly to be any where but there to deliver what he had to have known was horrific news - in the earliest hours of June 21, 2009.  Wow, there were a lot of life changing moments if I stop to think about it.  Probably a lot of people have one or two in their entire life.  I'm not bragging.  Far from it.

Surely, I press myself, there must have been some happy turn of event in there as well.  What I came up with was a moment so charged that our entire family's future course teetered on an edge.  One thing said differently, a different decision made or even a qualification on the one that was made, and life would be very, very different for all of us.  But, instead, on May 24, 2010 at around 8 in the evening in the middle of a heated argument actually my husband asked me where I wanted to go and I said Pittsburgh.  And he said okay, that's where we'll go.  That is my A-ha Moment.

I will tell you why that was such an A-ha moment next time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fear Factor

This is a call or arms to live and love and sleep together
We could flood the streets with love or light or heat
Lock the parents out, cut a rug, twist and shout
Wave your hands
Make it rain
For stars will rise again
- The Youth, MGMT

Can't you see that you're smothering me,
Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control?
'Cause everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you.

- Numb, Linkin Park

I have explored this topic before, but it is on my mind a lot lately for a few different reasons, so I'm going to look at it again and see if I can come up with any deep, heartfelt answers for myself.  And the topic is:  letting your adult children live their lives.

Gaining a true sense of independence means having the ability to screw up royally - knocking yourself on your own ass, having to pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and figure out how not to do that again.  I did it.  I bet you, dear reader, did too.  What none of us probably knew was how worrisome that was for our parents, trying hard not to stand in our way, but also trying not to be too far afield in case we needed them.  And, what most of us probably failed to completely appreciate is how much danger we put ourselves, at least on occasion.  I actually would have sent my mother screaming down to Texas to forcibly fetch me if she knew half of the completely idiotic situations I got myself into when I first moved there.  I can honestly make myself shudder sometimes to think back on those early days out of the nest.   Yet, here I stand, all these decades later, when a young man just coming back to work from making a down payment on grad school admission was shot and killed randomly a couple of weeks ago.   One of my favorite Austin eateries, Amy's Ice Cream, has this saying:  "Life is uncertain.  Eat dessert first."  Michael Schaab, 25-year old employee of Western Psych, reportedly had his lunch in his hand when he was shot and killed.  He never even got to the dessert.  What's even more horrible about the death of this attractive, reportedly very affable young man who had just gotten engaged on Valentine's Day, was that his sister had been shot to death a couple years before by her boyfriend.  Now their parents are bereft of their only two children in explosive acts of violence, and my own natural reaction to it is a knee-jerk, emotional one, which is to draw my only remaining child's reins in tighter.

This story intersects for me on several levels.  I know where Western Psych is - even as directionally challenged as I am.  It's in Oakland, the location of many of the area colleges including Pitt, just minutes away from where my daughter goes to school.  The apartment building where the troubled young shooter lived is on my husband's paper route.  He knew I would like the older building with its art deco interior, so he took me there one day and lead my up to the roof, where one can get a simply stunning view of Oakland and the surrounding areas.  I thought it would be a charming place to live if we ever got to the point we could not keep up a house anymore, but they don't allow dogs, so that's not going to happen.  But, above all else, I feel a sense of pain for the two sets of parents who lost sons on a rainy afternoon (for the attacker was the other fatality on that day, a troubled young man whose story is slowly unraveling much like it seems his mental stability did over a period of years).  What no one knows, and may never know, is why the demons who played around in his head caused him to do what he did.  But, whatever compelled him, a tragedy occurred that touched everyone here in some way or other.

So, I've been turning this story of two lost sons over in my head and playing it against the backdrop of trying to allow my own daughter a sense of independence and trying to take what lessons I can from it.  I would imagine I am not the only parent doing the same thing around here.  So, to those parents, myself included, I caution us to remember our own youthful adventures and how we felt we had the right to live our own lives.  If nothing else, if your parents are still living, now you have the opportunity to go beg their forgiveness for any actions you once perceived as nosy and tell them how you now understand.  To the young adults who may feel like you are on an invisible leash and resent it, remember this please:  being an adult is not about doing what you want when you want, it is about being responsible.  And that means to yourself as well as others.  Parents, you cannot tell them who to see or where to be or what not to drink, but I ask all offspring out there to remember to be responsible enough to let us in on where you are, who you are seeing and not to drink too much.  And remember who pays the bills and what you owe that entity: if it is from a job, then you owe them the honor of being there when you are supposed to and doing what you are employed to do.  If it is still your parents, well then, I would ask you to think of it a little bit like having sold them, or at least leased to them, the right to be worried about you.  If you want independence, then be independent.  Parents, sometimes no matter how you worry and how your kids respond to it, bad things can happen.  We have to realize that and accept it.  But, kids, remember that the only motivation we have for fussing at you about where you are and what you are doing is that we love you.  A lot.  Wait a few years until you begin your own family. You'll get it then.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On the Road Again

Keeping along the same themes as my previous post, I watch a lot of movies and over time have developed a few lists:  my favorite movies, movies I like to watch seasonally (for instance, Aliens is a holiday staple), movies I watch when I'm mad at something (usually a number of things go boom in those), and The Big 7.  The Big 7 consist of films that are not necessarily my all time favorites, although they do crossover and I do love each of them, but that, no matter how many times I watch them, will drive me to tears at some point.  And keep in mind I've seen some of these dozens of times.  The world has hardened me; I don't cry as readily as I used to, so while the list always has the potential to grow, it is not expanding at the same rate as it did at one point, but the ones that make the list remain on there despite my desensitized heart.  I'll test them now and again just to be sure.  I am contemplating the Big 7 currently not because of their place in the annals of cinema per se, but why each of them makes me snot nosed weepy and how that relates to my last week, because I sit here contemplating all of this from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, looking out over a flat, hazy vista, watching an American flag blow briskly in a hot, humid spring wind.

I don’t cry over movies for the reasons many women do.  As I took inventory of the Big 7 and the spots within them that get me going, it is often over friendship or locale, rarely over romantic love – okay, never actually.  Two of the Big 7 wallop me with both at the same time:  Out of Africa and The Return of the King.  When Frodo hugs Sam goodbye before taking the ship to the Undying Lands, I simply lose it man.  Witnessing him giving up his beloved Shire and Bag End, and the poignant parting from his dear friend, companion and gardener, Samwise Gamgee, well…if I think about it too long, I’ll get misty eyed right now in the middle of this stuffy, humid airport.

Out of Africa kicks me in the gut because I so long for Karen to be able to stay in Africa for one, but also because of her relationship with Farah and how painful it is to think of them having to be parted.  I’ll cry during the funeral scene when she buries her lover, but that’s because I’ve been blubbering for the past 20 minutes anyway, ever since the part where Farah asks her how it is to be between them.  Oh, for crying out loud, I actually am getting misty…

People have told me over and over in the course of my long life that I should find happiness wherever I am.  I credit that as a noble statement, but as I look out over the view from the airport window, all I can think about is how soon I can get on that plane heading home to Pittsburgh and get away from this hot, flat, humid place.  Yet, I leave a lot of really treasured friends behind.  And that’s hard too.  Really hard.

 This was a week of wild ups and downs.  The town crowded with SXSW performers and listeners, I had to stay in a hotel north of Georgetown and drive into the office each morning.  Sans toll tag, I cut across FM 620 to get there:  past the nursing home where my mother breathed her last early one spring morning, past the hospital where I have so much history with all the women in my family, past the grocery store where I agonized over what I could buy that was healthy but not threatening to Kelsey when she was in treatment and for Marissa when she decided she was Vegan.  All of that after I passed the high school.  I was grateful to see the view of the actual building obscured by an outcropping of portables that have sprung up like little rabbits since my daughters’ time there.  I couldn’t make out the main building at all.  But I knew it was there.   The punch in the gut that I took driving past all of that history the first time cannot be minimized.  It did get easier over time, but never pleasant.  But, that was juxtaposed with seeing some friends I have not been able to see in a long while and enjoying their company immensely and running down a mental list of all the individuals I did not get to spend time with and wishing I could see them.  I have said it before:  for some unknown reason, I am fortunate in my friends.  So, I wonder briefly what the hell was I thinking moving away from such wonderful people.

As I drive myself to the airport, I hear an interview with Shins front man James Mercer.  They are going to perform that night in Austin, and I think how I would have loved to have seen them - I never have.  Then I think that at least I still have that chance somewhere on down the line.  Kelsey will never get to see them, and she is the reason I even know who they are.  I don't know if that is why, but I realize then just how ready I am to get back on the plane and come home.  To Pittsburgh.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dear Angelina Jolie

Dear Angelina Jolie,

I love movies.  All my life I have loved them because at their best they make me think about the world on a different level and take me outside myself.  At their least they are a temporary diversion from regular old worries.  So, it stands to reason that I love the Academy Awards.  It's like the Super Bowl of movies, with the game and the half time show sort of all rolled into one.  I'm not so much drawn to the star power as I am the spectacle of the people who are the top of their craft coming together to acknowledge one another.  I dreamt at one point of standing up there on that stage you have inhabited more than a few times, not as an actress, but as a screenwriter maybe.  Editor maybe, because I think the true genius of film is taking the raw material the director gives you and creating a montage that is seamless.  Now there is art on a very high level.

What I love the most are those times when someone who has labored in the industry all their life comes forward for a shining moment.  Those moments when the joy is so sincere because it is a culmination of sacrifice, sweat, tears, and lots of rejection, coupled with the determination and self-belief that sustains the individual until they finally make it up on the largest of stages.   Those are often the times when all of that just bursts forth from the recipient.  Those are the speeches that everyone remembers and makes you sort of proud if you were part of the audience that supported that movie or knew about that person long ago.  This year it was Octavia Spencer.  On those occasions you know these people in all their glitter and gold are just like us (me, not you, I should say):  they labor hard at what they love and for a brief time anyway they get to be acknowledged for doing that well, and that means more to them than all the diamonds they are encased in.

But I'm having to do some soul searching lately because while instances like that are Hollywood at its best, there are other moments, and more than a few, that show Hollywood, and society as a whole, at its worst.  And you, I have to just say it honestly, were the one who made me realize that.

I know some people hate this word:  trigger.  But I use it, less often that I used to, because it fits sometimes.  There are just times when the specter of The Beast comes at me like a bullet flying out of a gun and hits me square in the chest.  You were that trigger.  It's not like your are the only one.  I was aghast a few years ago when James Cameron's wife, Suzy Amis, showed up to the Oscars wearing a strapless blue gown that probably would have been very lovely if I weren't so distracted by the fact that she looked absolutely skeletal.  I try to ignore his private life because I love his movies but tend to believe he's a douchebag on a personal level.  So, I try to separate the two entities in my mind so I can live with myself when I go agog over Avatar and am giddy in anticipation for the re-release of Titanic.  But I got obsessed there for a while trying to read anything I could about the couple, hoping I would find that he is aware of her situation and was trying to get her help.  Quite the contrary.  What I found were articles, one from a noted Hollywood plastic surgeon, criticizing her for not having work done on her face to make her look younger.  There was more than one article like that in the frenzied red carpet aftermath worrying over how old she looked.  Old?!  Really?  Of course she looks old.  Every ounce of her is engaged in the fight for survival.  It drains you down to nothing, your body turns on itself.  Doesn't anybody care if she lives or dies, just whether or not she makes a great looking corpse? And, all the while, I find photos of the two of them together, he seemingly quite proud of the emaciated individual standing next to him.  Wow.

Yet somehow I got past that and went right on worshiping at the altar of the cineplex.  This year that got interrupted a little when I had to go get some sleep in order to head out to the airport at 5:00 the next morning, so my daughter dutifully recorded the Oscars for me, and I sat down to watch it over the weekend.  And that's when I saw you, standing up there in your black gown with the slit up the side and struck that infamous pose with your leg jutting out as though you rule the world and want everyone to know it.  I don't have an issue with the pose mind you.  It's the rest of the package that triggered me.  I don't know what you weigh, but trust me, it's not enough for your frame.  Your face looks completely gaunt.  You are a beautiful woman.  I'm not your biggest fan, but I can see that you have this look that is stunning.  But The Beast, as I call it, will take that from you if you are not careful.  Right now you are not well.  You have to come to the realization that something is wrong because you are more than an actress or a human being, you are a mother.  You owe it to your children to recognize what is happening and get help.  They have nannies I suppose, but is that why you went to the effort to have kids, so someone else can raise them when you die from any number of complications from a disease that causes you, one of the wealthiest women alive, to literally starve yourself to death.

And, dear God, what about your husband?  Is he really standing by and just letting this happen?  What is it with these guys?

I watched a few more minutes after you left and then realized I didn't have the stomach for it.  It's still there on my DVR, but I'm going to delete it today.  I've seen enough.  Is this what my love for the movies does to people?  Am I part of the machine that causes these women to chase immortality and think they have to be stick thin to do it?  I don't know.  I have to do some soul searching.  In the meantime, get help.   Please.


A movie buff

Saturday, March 3, 2012

No Bad Kids

While I was traveling 1,230 miles from home, 117 miles away from it a horrible tragedy was taking place when a 17-year old kid walked into a high school and began shooting.  As I read more about it in the following days, it strikes even closer to home.  I find myself not only aching for the families who have lost  their children, but I feel an ache for the shooter, as unpopular as that may be right now.  I saw a photo of him at one point during the week being escorted to the courthouse where he was formally charged with three counts of aggravated murder, two counts of aggravated attempted murder and one count of felonious assault.  This rather delicate looking boy, shackled and wearing a bullet proof vest, had his eyes closed as though he was trying to float through the situation he found himself and hoped that he would eventually wake up to find out he was in a really bad dream.  Based on what I could read of his comments immediately after the shooting, I wondered if he really appreciated the consequences of his actions at the time of the shooting.  Like he thought he was playing World of Warcraft and it wasn't quite all real until the aftermath when it became all very real.  I'm sure as time unfolds we'll learn more and more about this troubled young soul, but when I read that his parents were not present in the courtroom for his arraignment, my heart really ached for him.

Nonetheless three human beings are dead.  Countless others have had their lives forever changed at the hands of this boy.  He has to atone for his actions.  What I just kept wondering during the week if there weren't some other people who should be atoning for it as well.  Like perhaps those missing parents.  And, that got me wondering, uncomfortably so, if Kelsey had been a boy could she have turned her fears and troubles outward instead of inward and what could have potentially happened then?  I'd like to think I was a better parent than that.  But, truth is, I think I became a better parent than that only after she began to get sick.  I will give myself credit for realizing I needed self improvement and being open to it, but from what I can tell, the adults in this kid's life never had anything remotely akin to a parenting epiphany, and what he knew of the world was conflict, anger and abandonment but very little love.

That's judgmental on my part.  I don't know these people.  They may love him very much, but my mantra has become:  love is not enough.  Everything I'm reading tells me he was raised in a atmosphere of violence.  Can anyone really be surprised when he chose violence to address feelings and situations he didn't really have the maturity to understand within himself?  I'm sure lots of violent people love, in their own sense of that word, the people they abuse.  

My other mantra:  there are no bad kids.  Of course I realize that is not entirely true.  Some of us just come out of the womb wired wrong and nothing anyone can do will fix that.  If you accept there are extraordinarily virtuous and selfless people in the world, like Mother Teresa and Ghandi, then it stands to reason there are monsters walking among us too.  But, I think that's the extreme exception.  When I see a boy like T. J. Lane I see a troubled kid with the potential to be guided into a productive, fulfilled adult.  I'm so happy when I see and hear from the individuals that Kelsey and Marissa went to high school with.  They are living proof of what I believe.  I think he could have been like them with the right guidance.  But now it's too late.  Now he's a murderer.  

My heart was so heavy all week.  This is a tragedy every way you look at it.  I don't care if Mr. Lane knew the kids he shot or not.  I don't see that it makes a difference.  All I can think of that will make a difference now is if parents out there who may share some things in common with the Lanes use this as a wake-up call and get the help and support they need so they can in turn support their kids and prevent any future T. J. Lanes.  One can always hope.