Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gloria - see you on the dance floor...

The new Chilean movie, Gloria, is a film that has a unique richness to it, earthiness and a longing to escape.  Like South America itself - promise seems always just outside its grasp. LIke the white peacock in Gloria  - no real colors - no glory (gloria), or the hairless cat - more rat than cat, or like Gloria's romance with Rudolfo - a sham, or her family - living apart ( "me separe" (I am seperated) and alienated they sit around looking at old photographs as if they cared for each other while the ex-husband gets drunk and laments their failed past - that he "should have been there" (at his daughter's graduation) - the way Chile laments its failed past under the dictator Pinoche (about whom it should have done something). Even the street protests were not very riotous and Gloria uses a pretend "paint" gun to shoot at Rudolfo - as if to paint a picture - but paint gun bullets are not real just as, her fun was not real, her love was not real, her Glory (and Chile's Glory) is not real - it's smoke, its blackout sex (rape?) on the beach. 

The first line of the movie is "Are you always this happy?" Gloria seems not to know what to say or how to answer. But what one pretends to be and what one really is can make for one ugly cat or spooky looking peacock or a country that could have been.

Some of the movie's choices provide narrative meat on the bones, provide interest, context, detail, symbols and metaphors. Gloria's oversized glasses, her glaucoma, Rudolfo's gastric by-pass surgery, the skeleton marionette,  the hairless cat, the white peacock. The movie reminded me of Pan's Labyrinth  - odd because, while Gloria is not a fantasy movie, I watched both with a similar amazement and curiosity - like Pan, what would Gloria discover next, what would happen to her, what would she stumble onto and encounter, how would she change as a result, how would her vision change?  

In the end Gloria takes off her glasses - does that mean she can now see clearly or does it mean that she now accepts her (limited) vision of the world and her place in it - imperfect as it may be. Maybe that is why in the end she dances to a song of her own name  - like we all do, dancing alone with whatever vision we have, connected to others with whom we share the dance floor. And maybe that is why despite the obstacles she faces and her heartbreak and struggles there was something strangely uplifting and affirming about the movie. Because none of us has perfect vision, we are all odd hairless cats, both beautiful and ugly at the same time, we all dance somewhat alone and -  are we always this happy? - Yes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Uncle Yoda...

Howard Benatar Germain (born June 13, 1924) died peacefully on July 19, 2012 at the age of 88 in Santa Barbara, California. His daughter, Amy Germain and niece, Ellen Germain,  were with him. In addition to Amy and Ellen, Howard is survived by his son, Neal, his grandsons, Daniel, and Schuyler, granddaughters, Alexis and Nicole and daughters- in-law, Elisa Germain and Irene Simonian, nephew Steven Germain and his wife, Laura Impert, grand niece, Nina Germain,  grand nephew, Will Germain  and by his first wife, Rhoda Rossmoore. Howard was pre-deceased by his wife, Roseanne, his son Andrew, his son, David, his brother, Lawrence and sister-in-law, Gloria Germain.

Howard was born in Newark, Newark Jersey and was raised in Brooklyn, New York where he attended high school at Brooklyn Poly Prep. He graduated from Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire and served in the U.S. Army as a meteorologist during WW II. After the war, Howard worked at Germain's Department Store at 5th Ave and 15th Street in Brooklyn, a family business started in 1898 by his grandparents, Louis and Ida. He left the retail business and worked in sales in the garment industry eventually becoming national sales manager for the Flexnit Corporation.

He retired from Flexnit at age 50 to persue his interest in something he (seriously) considered much more significant and meaningful than commerce - golf. He moved with his wife, Roseanne, to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina to pursue that interest. On Hilton Head Howard worked as a part time mailman, gave  Bat and Bar Mitzvah lessons and became a USTA linesman officiating on the tennis tour including the U.S. Open. During one John McEnroe match that Howard officiated, McEnroe thought Howard missed hearing a net ball and McEnroe glared at Howard. Two weeks later at another McEnroe match Howard did not call a ball out that McEnroe thought had just missed the line leading McEnroe to exclaim at Howard,   "Not only are you deaf, you are blind too."  Howard said that McEnroe was right, he had missed both calls.

 Howard and Roseanne tooled around Hilton Head on a BMW motorcycle complete with sidecar.   After 20 years on Hilton Head, Howard and Roseanne moved to Santa Barbara, California which Howard described as "paradise" adding that from there "to talk to God was just a local call".

 The poet, W.B. Yeats wrote:

 "That is no country for old men;
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
a tattered coat upon a stick,
Soul clap its hands and sing."

 Howard,  your soul clapped its hands and sung to us for 88 years. Long after you're gone it still will... everyday.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Alexithymia is a term coined by psychotherapist Peter Sifneos in 1973 to describe a state of deficiency in understanding, processing, or describing emotions. The word comes from the  Ancient Greek literally meaning "without words for emotions".
Alexithymia is defined by:
  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

The alexithymia construct is strongly inversely related to the concepts of psychological mindedness and emotional intelligence.

Here's a video with lyrics to the song "Alexithymia" by the band Anberlin.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sincerity and Common Sense...

So let's say you just got out of a ten day detox and are back at home with your 6 year old kid. Life isn't so good - you have a cocaine habit and a shitty attitude and you get pissed off easily but you love the kid and want it to work out with the good guy husband even though he is a bit mamby pamby and your favorite response to "how do you like your coffee?' is "black, same as I like my men." but he puts up with your massive amounts of bullshit so you really mean it this time - no more coke, no more self indulgent out bursts - just stay clean and live sober. 

A week later -  who the fuck knows what happened, maybe you took a double dose of your meds and got confused  but you wake up and who knows what time it is but you need some food and there is an all night joint on the corner and hubby and the kid are asleep so you head out and order up some eggs but it turns out that the double dose of meds or whatever confused you and it it is not 1:00 AM it is like 5:00 AM and the kid woke up and the husband who works the night shift is not home so you rush back to your building and there are the sirens and the cops have your kid who had woken up and wandered in the building until a neighbor called the cops and they haul you into jail and now it is serious freak out time because the Judge doesn't care what your court appointed lawyer is saying about why you were not home and Judge probably figures you are a lying junkie anyway so boom, court order of protection - you cannot see or talk to your kid for at least 30 days and Child Protective Services is called. So fuck it, you get released from jail, go home grab a few items, some tools and jewelery and you sell like $2,000 worth of stuff for $200 of crack and you get high and the next day, strung out, you call the rehab and say - can I come back I really fucked up again.

And you go back to rehab and your roommate is nothing like the one you had last time - the accountant wife of a lawyer who was over doing the red wine at dinner but who you got along with like a sister - this new roommate is some sort of psycho who the other patients tell you is crazy. And when you wake up half your clothes are in her closet and the $31 in cash you had in your pocket is gone and you tell that bitch that if she does not give you your money back you are going to kill her. Now you are in rounds and being told that threatening violence is an automatic discharge but since they found $31 in the bitch roommate's pocket you can stay but your grounds privileges are revoked and you say- "What the fuck, she stole from me and I get punished? I was set up  - this is bullshit - if you make me eat lunch on the unit I am outta here."

And so here's the sincerity and common sense part of the story. There is this guy who volunteers on the unit. Bit of a nerd,  likes his coffee light, extra sweet. A nice guy, sort of bland but weirdly sincere and long on common sense no matter how crazy. And the common sense nerd  says "jeepers, in the scheme of things, isn't it like not really that big a deal that you have to eat on the unit instead of going to the cafeteria? I mean even if it is totally unfair and unjust, it somehow seems like not such a hardship, especially compared to some of the hardships you have endured and by the way, if you leave before you complete treatment you can pretty much forget about getting the order of protection revoked anytime soon. This self righteous thing you have going on, that is your disease, it is genius, it knows you did not do anything wrong, it knows the psycho bitch stole from you and it knows all you did was defend yourself.  so it gives you this irrefutable argument, it says you are right, it says fuck them, but that is because it knows you think being right matters, defending yourself matters, not being taken advantage of matters" ... but then the nerdy guy adds,  "wait a minute, does it matter? restricted to the unit vs. getting custody of your kid back, vs getting treatment, getting your $31 back vs. leaving here early and going out and using and getting busted again?" 

And she smiles (great smile, a million bucks right there)  and she says, "You are right, you know what, all I need is a cup of hot coffee and then I will be fine, I will have lunch on the unit". And nerd says, "Great I will get you a cup of coffee, how do you take it?"  and she says, "large and black, like my men."  You bring her coffee, she says thanks. Nerd says, "See you tomorrow".

Nerd goes home. Wonders if she will beat up the roommate tonight and get kicked out and not be there tomorrow when he comes back.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Quote of the week - Franzen on Wallace...

Jonathan Franzen eulogized author David Foster Wallace after his suicide at age 46 in 2008 saying that "Wallace challenged apathy with Molotov cocktails of bottomless empathy born out of the heart's revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are".

Thursday, May 3, 2012

This I Know For A Fact...

I recently met a young woman who is 31 years old, a mother of 8 year old twin boys one of whom died four months ago due to an accident. Since the accident the woman has been taking ever increasing, excessive amounts of anti anxiety meds and drinking alcohol heavily. Got to the point of a psychotic depression, voices telling her about friends that are evil and God assuring her she did nothing wrong.  Amazingly sad and, as is the case with a despairingly high percentage of addicts and mentally ill, not likely to end easily or well. Sometimes there is justice, sometimes there is mercy, sometimes there is neither.  As an aside, I want to add that she has a noticeably dignified countenance, a kind of sparkle and smile that would be described in anyone else as attractive but under her circumstances seems regal.

Here is an observation: There are lots of reasons people use drugs but all those reasons can be put into two categories -  to increase pleasure or to avoid pain. And pain and pleasure can be sub divided into three categories: physical, emotional and spiritual.

Substances can enhance pleasure and diminish pain and the vast majority of humans use chemicals (like alcohol) in moderation and are able to control their use and for them moderate ingestion helps them relax, take the edge off,  make them a little looser socially, feel more creative and connected, lessen pain etc.  - all with no negative consequences. But there are a percentage of humans who, for whatever reason, cannot control their use. (By the way, while pleasure is a common reason to use chemicals it seems to me that most addicts use chemicals primarily to lessen pain (whether because addicts'  pain is greater than most people can bear (as is the case of the woman I mentioned above who lost her son, or because addicts are more sensitive to or have some sort of diminished capacity to tolerate pain, I do not know). Those people become hooked and after a while use not to get high but just not to feel sick.  Their  lives are taken over by a compulsion that will, unless stopped, eventually kill them and before they die will make them and everyone who loves them suffer horribly.  They can be helped. (I know this for a fact). And if they get sober I believe they (and those who love them) often appreciate their sobriety and are grateful for the everyday in ways that are, not for nothing, described as miraculous (I know this for a fact as well).  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

4/20 (National Boredom Day)

Since yesterday was 4/20 which is National Marijuana Day, a (in my opinion) misguided and naive celebration of escape disguised as some sort of libertarian statement about choice, I thought I would use the occasion to suggest that 4/20 be renamed National Boredom Day. I am not going to get into a discussion of controlled use of pot, or alcohol or other drugs or whether pot is a gateway drug that can lead to addiction. But I am going to think about hard core addiction...

Addicts who relapse frequently sometimes seem superficially better than the last relapse but their motivation for trying to get clean again is often more for a break from the mess of their lives rather than to lose the habit. Rarely does a relapsing addict have a sober network and the answer is a common one: "same friends but they support me" which I take to mean "same old drinking and drugging crowd who I need a break from every once in a while and then when I feel like getting high again welcome me back with open arms". In contrast are those in recovery who have lost the old friends and connected with new sober friends. They may still have  a reservation to use in the future but they have the tools to avoid picking up again.

So this got me thinking. How about:  "Banish the Boredom - I love getting high so why am I trying to get clean and what in the world am I going to devote my life to instead?"  Addicts like getting high, addiction and the life is their entire world, their primary relationship is with their drink or drug - they love Mr. or Mrs. Smirnoff (or whatever their drug is) more than anyone. (Addicts, like any parent, love their kids and they (just like non-addict parents say and sincerely believe) that they would take a bullet for their kids but the active addict parent, sadly, is the bullet. But the parent in recovery gives their child the incredible gift of real pride). So to just take the drugs and the life style away without some other sense of purpose or meaning is not likely to work. On the other hand, each day clean brings gratitude and a sense of accomplishment and a discovery that (and this may be a spiritual idea) being ordinary is extraordinary. (Not sure about any of that but it seems right). 

I think, at least initially, recovery often begins by filling the newly created void with a commitment to sobriety, a new -  selfish -  full time job (maintaining sobriety)  - the hub of the bicycle wheel, the center of a sober network. (I use the word selfish intentionally because it is one of the skills addicts bring to the table. Getting high is about as selfish an activity as there is. Also about as self destructive. So channelling that selfishness towards putting sobriety first even if that means not doing what family, friends, job, etc. want or expect (rebelliousness is another common trait so not doing what is expected can also come in handy if channelled) seems like a positive redirection of inherent abilities. 

I am often struck by how bored addicts seem in between highs. Here they are fighting for their lives and yet they seem like they could care less, just get through the down time until they can get high again. I think that goes to a big issue - life is boring  - especially to selfish, stimulation craving, self centered humans who are in physical and/or emotional pain (i.e., most people - which is, in part, why I think drugs and drinking are so prevalent). Maybe Nancy Reagan was not entirely wrong when she said "Just Say No" but that seems like a result not a solution. Maybe it's more about "Banish the Boredom". 


Add to Technorati Favorites