(500) Days of Summer

Over the course of my life, there have been movies and songs that seemed to be made just for my generation, or just for people in similar situations as me — Fight Club was perfect for a 19 year-old male with mother issues, Rushmore seemed made for boys who spent their adolescence in a restrictive all-male high school who prized creativity over grades. The band Tool spoke to all my interests in science fiction, philosophy, the occult. You know, deep shit.

But there are some things that transcend mere love as it is defined for music or film or a book or play. Sometimes it’s not about liking the thing, or knowing what it is talking about. Sometimes something just speaks directly to you, and you get the distinct impression that very few of the people around you are going through the same experience. Though they are laughing at the right places and tearing up at the right places, they are still sitting in a theater or listening to the radio. You are in the movie, you are in the song. It’s like you and a friend both met a very attractive girl at the same time; both of you were turned on, but one of you is a different person for having met her.

All of this is to say, I’m the type of person who has tasted the love of a good book (Stranger in a Strange Land), I have heard songs from 20 years prior that let me know that I was not alone in being alone (How Soon Is Now?), and I have been forever altered by connections made with television characters (My So-called Life).

Three movies have taken me inside them and sweat a level of cold comfort from my body, leaving me altered but thankful for it. The first was The Breakfast Club. I’d seen parts of it a thousand times, but the first time I watched that movie from beginning to end, I was just the right age to do so, and in just enough of a teenage depression to be severely helped by it.

The second was American Beauty. I remember every last bit of that experience. I remember that when I saw it, it was more about the two teenagers than it has been since. I was in my first relationship, and I was a bit of a morbid lunatic — but I was more confident than I’ve ever been since. Irina did that to me, still does. Her belief in me is so pure it can bolster me from shut-in to prophet, and I’m glad for the occasional fix of it. The plastic bag sequence and the ending narration reacquainted me with a deep-seeded joy of life of which I never fully let go.

The third is (500) Days of Summer. Most people who either saw it with me or have heard me talk about it since think I’m being a tad bit melodramatic about it, or maybe that I just need to shut the fuck up. I’m sure they’re right. I walked out comparing it to Requiem for a Dream, in that I had been traumatized. This was a joke, but not entirely hyperbolic. I didn’t know if I’d ever want to watch it again. As the days go by and my appetite to see the film again increases, I’ve realized I was wrong. I will be watching this film quite a lot.

The film basically condenses the past 4 or so post-Katrina years of my life, and the pseudo relationship of which I’ve been a part, into a 2 hour indie tour de force. Sure, it took out the distance, obviously doesn’t mention a preceding hurricane, and the relationship doesn’t advance in a series of installments when the two main characters happen to be in the same city, but like I said. Condensed. Tack onto that my man crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt that started with Brick and was solidified by a squee when he was in two seconds of a shot in Brothers Bloom, and the fact that I think I fall in love with Zooey Deschanel differently for every part I’ve experienced her play, from Elf to Trillian to Weeds to Tin Man.

The movie continually tells you what the movie is, yet it still punches you in the gut when it is what you’ve been told it is. Much like Tom, we are holding out the hope that we are being lied to, and are crushed by the truth. For me, it was a strange, unwelcome but needed wake-up call.

I am also thankful for finally having my type portrayed on screen at all. Not all men are sex-crazed commitment-phobes, and not all women are needy, insecure relationship-aholics. In my experience, nothing but the exact inverse of that has been true, and it was nice to finally have that portrayed in a film. Certainly, Say Anything had it’s Cusack, but Ione Skye was anything but a fun-loving gentleman’s woman like Summer. This version is intensely more accurate. There’s always someone who’s more into it than the other. True love, perhaps, is when everything’s even.

Marc Webb, formerly a music video director, does a phenomenal job here. His background shows in spades, from the remarkable soundtrack (which kills me all over again because of how linked the music is to specific emotions in the film), to a musical set piece that is the highlight of the movie. He also uses color, or specifically avoids color, to force us into Tom’s position a bit — the palette for the entire movie is neutral, except when Summer is present, and the amazing blue of Zooey Deschanel’s eyes subtly surround us.

If you have the time or inclination, I highly recommend the film, and if you love the film, I highly recommend visiting the website, where if you look you can find a Marc Webb-directed video for Zooey’s band, She & Him, featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and a recasting of a scene from Sid & Nancy featuring Zooey as Sid and Joseph as Nancy (a reference to a line in 500 Days).

Suffering by Design, part 2

In college, at the cusp of me dealing with a growing social anxiety, an inability to connect to the opposite sex, and a desperate need to be important before I died, I met a group of people that would change my life, just as the second group of people I had called friends had let me down, continuously putting themselves before each other and me, and not really being that interested in true friendship (at least with me). They were the friend equivalent of a relationship of convenience or necessity, rather than true emotion. That was as much my fault as theirs. When you don’t know who you are, you don’t know who or what you want, because who is this “you” asshole?

Anyway, because I had started smoking by now (a byproduct of being a Beta in high school to an extremely charismatic personality who has since fallen out of the gods’ favor), I ended up hanging out with an entirely new group of people at college. Not only was college a wake-up call in terms of personal freedom scholastically, but I was suddenly able to choose friends. Eventually, I met Darren, and I’d never clicked like that with a person outside of my family. He introduced me to Jamie and Laura, and suddenly, I had a real family of people with whom I felt true kinship. This is probably why I am alive today. Though I’ve gone through much bullshit since knowing them, I feel like most of it was the remnant of my prior experiences, and not something being done to me. Except for the whole Greg thing.
I’m a dramatic person, and I have a tendency towards hyperbole in certain situations. I also feel more than most. I inherited a certain empathic ability from my father, and I can tell what other people are feeling. Sometimes this works to my detriment. I pick up on emotions not directed at me, and I want, nee need them to be directed at me so badly I cannot tell there is something else going on. This helped lead to me being in situation after situation where someone ended up with a friend of mine instead of me. I was positioning myself between two people. I can exaggerate motivations; I have been known to misinterpret signs and miss them altogether by the opposite mistake (I assume feelings are not directed at me, now). All this being said, Greg tried to destroy me. 

The primary argument against this was always that Greg wasn’t capable of such machinations; I, of course, being perceived smarter than I perceive myself, was capable. This made it impossible to fight back when Greg tried to destroy me. See the thing is, liars like that kid don’t need machinations. They need a stupid face and the cowardice to tell you they did something that they didn’t, and the cowardice and lack of moral fiber to point at someone else when caught in a previous lie. I was right. Period. Greg could not be trusted; he hated me from high school ’cause I made fun of his fucking juice box. I didn’t even disapprove. I just thought it was funny that he brought ecto-coolers to school when we were sixteen fucking years old. And he hated me for it. What a douchebag.
Let’s get this straight: You can’t take a joke, you can’t be trusted. To quote Christopher Titus, every dude has the douchebag test. New guy walks up wearing a stupid shirt. You say, “What’s up with that shirt?” There are two types of responses. If new guy says something like, “I’ll keep wearing this shirt as long as you keep wearing those shoes,” he is now your new best friend. If he says something like, “This is my favorite shirt,” with an emo face, he is a douchebag. When you interpret good natured ribbing as personal attacks, then everyone is out to get you in your little warped world, which means you are justified in doing whatever you need to to any of them to save yourself. They all hate you anyway, right? So fuck them, worry about you. The only problem is, most people, particularly guys, mock each other as a sign of affection. When that sign is rejected, it denotes a prior disposition toward not liking the person doing the mocking. Yes, I am guilty of thinking like this in freshman year of high school. Then I realized people were just trying to be my friend, and guys can’t go, “Nice shoes,” they have to say, “that’s the dumbest hat ever.” 
Anyway, Greg was a douchebag, I liked Mikey way better, so at the very least he served a purpose by introducing me to him. I decided to betray Greg after Greg betrayed Mikey, because fuck Greg, Mike was better in every conceivable way. I’d never even seen Mike mad before the night Greg started all this shit. Not only was he betraying Mike, he also was fucking over two girls who I liked more than his ass, too, even if one was only marginally. Fuck that dude. So I told the girls. I do not feel bad about it. I hate a motherfucker who has more than one chick without deserving the first one. He did it twice, and both times I felt like Cassandra talking to a fucking wall. Yeah, I wanted to fuck Kathleen. She was fucking hot. What of it, every guy wanted to  and any of them who denied it were lying. I didn’t, and it took away my credibility. I love that shit. But there’s no accounting for people’s need to believe in someone’s bullshit because of how said bullshit reinforces a positive view of themselves. Just look at any religious figure or politician.
Either way, I learned my lesson. A comfortable lie is more acceptable than the obvious but inconvenient truth. I don’t really care, and I’m not changing how I go about things. I’ll just wait for everyone else to catch up.
The point is, that despite all the crap I went through for three or four summers, I was stronger through all of it because of the people I had in my life. True love hurts, and I truly love the people whom I consider my true friends. Although now I have this weird mental checklist. Some people are on it, they know who they are, and others aren’t. Not because they aren’t good friends or because I don’t like them. They just aren’t family.
Speaking of true love, I’m in it. It is an inconvenient love, it has hurt me more than anything in recent memory. I went through a period of mourning that I cannot begin to describe other than to say that it was extremely self-destructive and lonely, and once again I am only probably alive because of the people I went home to every evening. I will never be able to repay them even a tenth of what they’ve done for me.
Anyway, Alison’s in New York. I think we’re both finally meeting in the middle, so to speak. I tend to start off too intense, panicking at the prospect of loss. It took me way longer than usual, but I figured out how I felt about Ali waaaay too late, when we were already in two different states. Then, I was ready to move to New York to make it possible to be with her. Anything I had to do. This is a little much devotion and willingness for a normal person, especially someone with more experience (which can be as much a disadvantage as an advantage; I cling to my idealism about love despite it having done nothing but stand me up since the beginning). Either way, as I’ve cooled off Ali’s warmed up. It’s not that the emotions have changed; we’ve felt the same since the beginning. The being I am, if I’m willing to outright say that then it’s 99% likely to be true. If there’s any doubt about someone liking me remotely, I will find it and enlarge it. I have no doubts about this. No, the emotions haven’t changed, they’ve just slowly been tested, confirmed as real, and come to grips with. I’ve calmed as I’ve gained confidence in my feelings and realized that I don’t need her right now, before she’s taken away. She’s realized her feelings for me and vice versa aren’t overnight sensations, and is more and more okay with endulging them.
We still avoid relationship-like talk. That’s like a death kiss when you’re nowhere near each other. There must be the illusion of escape. But we work “I love you,” into every conversation like the words will stop existing if we don’t say them every five minutes. And last time we did that annoyingly cute thing where neither of us would hang up. I’m in so much trouble, and I love it. Anyway, we’re both working on ways to see each other.
It seems sad or weird, but the whole reason I did this movie was to be successful enough at something I’m good at so that I could move up there or at least travel there regularly. A normal job won’t cut it. I need to earn this by being me. Does any of this make any sense?

Designed by Suffering, part 1

When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I acted as a child. Now that I am an adult, I am a total fucking asshole.

Some Asshole
I was born at some hospital in New Orleans when I was very young. Growing up Brown in a time after the utter decay of Louisiana Creole culture, I never really identified with anyone. I went to a predominantly Black, Catholic elementary school called Epiphany. I say, “predominantly,” in that I went there. Everyone else was either Black or convinced they were even though they were in actuality, like me, Creole. When my father grew up here, there were balls for us, entire cultural celebrations. Ironically, with the repeal of segregation laws came the destruction of the mixed culture that comes with the word Creole. By the time I got to high school, I was telling people I was Samoan so I didn’t have to do a grocery list of races when they asked the extremely rude-sounding but well-meaning question, “What are you?”
I spent my childhood trying to find a cultural identity, fighting the label of Black simply because somewhere in my blood a hundred years ago some slaves were raped. Mostly because I don’t see how that makes me any different from anyone else in this country, and in particular this state. Everyone here is a little Indian, a little Spanish, a little French, a little Italian, and a little Black. But if you come out anything darker than apricot, you need to find a label.
In hindsight, I always had a bit of an anxiety problem. I was a sensitive child who was terrified of authority and who followed directions implicitly. It meant I learned very easily but was quickly being crushed by the smallest of actions or reactions by my parents. My father, also a sensitive man, did the least damage to my recalling, but probably did a lot to me by being so goddamned sensitive. I had to take care of him a couple of times when he fell on hard times and my mother was still calling for the child support check. He also, of course, let my mother take custody of me to spare me the legal battle, which he has regretted ever since. My mother is the product of her household — a ball of neurosis and narcissism that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to parenting. Everything I did was a personal attack on her, and she and her family have a tendency to overreact at the slightest hint of rebellion. They hated my father and insulted him in front of me, which only damaged my ego and made me identify more with him than them. My mother, however, was a tollerable, if slightly disfunctional person, and loves me. My grandmother was who raised me, though, as my mother desperately combed through a series of assholes looking for my new father or for her real one. My grandmother was not a nice woman, and squashed my individuality until I had to destroy my mental connection with that entire side of the family in order to sustain my sanity. Now, I could seperate myself from such attacks, but as a child I was not so strong willed.
I cried myself to sleep for an entire week once, convinced I was going to hell because I was a horrible person, which only now I realize was because I was judging myself against perfection. I always have been.
I was related a story from when I was an infant by my father, from before he and my mother were divorced. Mom was giving me a bath, and I crapped in the tub. She freaked out as Dominicks are wont to do, screaming and running from the bathroom, and I started crying. My father had to come in and finish giving me a bath, and admonished my mother for the possible damage she’d done to me. It was, unfortunately, too late.
From as long as I can remember to when I was around 13 and my free will began to surface, I could not go to the bathroom properly. Only in hindsight did I realize that all that time, I was literally holding everything in, doing irrevocable damage to my intestinal track. At the time, it was an involuntary reflex from a child who learned to be terrified of what he had done as a baby, like how if you act scared of a dog in front of your baby it will take that fear from you and turn it into a phobia.  I was put on medication after medication, and received more enemas and even a barium colonic on one occasion from ages 4-12, no one ever putting together that I was the one keeping my shit in for up to a week at a time. By 12, my metabolism was fucked and I had stopped playing or doing physical activities because I had to worry about shitting my pants. All of this distraction also lead to me being afraid of doing other things, and my mother did not make me learn these things because she had been dealing with so much terror for me that she leaned towards coddling. Thus, I was fat from ages 13-23 and I do not know how to drive, ride a bike, or swim. In many ways, I am still dealing with the ramifications of a shit I took when I was an infant. I do not tell people this story, ever. I am doing it now in the hopes that it will lift some of the burden from me. You see, I hold everything in, even now, and I am tired of it.
The same type of terror that gripped me about going to the bathroom, the same demon that shakes me to my core and paralyzes me behind the wheel of an automobile, is the same fear that grips me about the opposite sex. I see a cute girl and suddenly, I can’t move. The world fades away and the fear is all there is. Just a heartbeat and the tears I hold back like everything else. I can’t even form words. Maybe, if I hadn’t gone to an all-boy high school, I’d have gotten used to them earlier and developed a sexual identity, but I think it would have been pretty much the same as everything else — no identity. That same paralyzing terror would have been present, but perhaps I would have had more immediate obsessions. As it stood, that did not happen until college.
I went to Jesuit for high school. This time, all-male and predominantly White, although still Catholic and crippling. I realigned my identity with people who talked more like I did, liked the same music as me, had similar ideals. They were not a lot like me, but they had to do. I was fat and brown and I didn’t meet a single girl while I was there. Just as my hormones were pumping full tilt, I was denied even a casual contact with females, and the impossibility of their being interested in me anyway was very real. I did not look like the guys on TV who the girls liked. I was not Jared Leto, though I wanted a girl like Claire Danes very badly. The internet ended up being my first outlet into the social world, and I met my first girlfriend there. I have only physically hung out with Irina once, but she is still one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I consider that a real experience. She was certainly realer than my other obsessions back then, which all took the form of women and girls on TV or in movies. (Side note, I was selected for Natalie Portman’s Fanatic, but then they never ended up doing it.) High school was a horribly depressing time in my life, but there are a few things I learned there that helped me save myself — rebellion, and the surrogate family that friends can be.
I was medicated, yet again, this time with Prozac, which turned a very depressed teen into a sucidal one. Then Effexor, where I missed a day and literally could hear my own eyes moving. I started college, hanging out with my cousin’s friends now that most of my high school group had moved on to different pastures. Eventually, a combination of my own sensitivity and my inability to actually talk to girls, and my perception of myself as a quasimodo-like creature put me into several situations with no good ending in sight. My abandonment issues made me fall for girls who would fuck anything but me, including my friends, which caused me to lose it on one particular occasion and end up in Charity’s mental ward. I didn’t want anyone to have to pay a bill for my weird, vain freakout.
But college was a game changer for me. More on that in part 2.