Saturday, March 22, 2014

50 Shades of Smartass: Chapter 20

When we last left Christian and Ana, he had put her over his shoulder and was taking her to the boathouse for punishment spanking and fucking. But, to all of our surprises, she protests: "Please don't hit me." And "I don't want you to spank me, not here, not now. Please don't."

Christian is surprised and confused. This is new. "No one's ever said no to me before. And it's so--hot." My eyes hurt from all the rolling. Yeah, we can tell no one's ever said no to you. That's your problem, you spoiled child. Spoil a child too much and what they have will never be enough.

She tries to touch his face and kiss him and be sweet to him, like she's taming him somehow, but Christian's really MAD, because she closed her legs at the dinner table when he tried to touch her, and because Ana never said anything about Georgia, and because "you went drinking with that guy who tried to seduce you when you were drunk," which explains a lot of the core problems with this book, because what Jose did was not a seduction, it was an attempted date rape.

He's just all about the possessiveness. Sure, she can tell him she doesn't want the spanking, but he still puts his hand over her pussy sex and says "This is mine. All mine. Do you understand?" He's got his teeth clenched and he's breathing hard like he's having some kind of attack. Then he pushes her down on the couch, bent over, with her hands behind her head so she can't touch him, and fucks her back into submission. That's really what it is. He tells her "This will be quick, and it's for me, not you. Do you understand? Don't come, or I will spank you." He might just as easily have said "Now that you've humanized yourself in my eyes, I've got to turn you back into an object." Afterwards he tells her "Don't touch yourself. I want you frustrated. That's what you do to me by not talking to me, by denying me what's mine." You know, because the only way a woman should ever get off is when a penis makes her do it, because the penis is superior and gives man dominion over woman and whatever idiotic trip he's on.

This is all so far beyond bullshit now. I just want him to walk into a propeller.

The only way this asshole can think is in terms of his own sexual needs. Sorry, Ana, but Christian's already in a co-dependent relationship with his cock.

There are so many little things being dropped all over the place. Christian hands Ana her panties and says "You may put these on now" and Ana considers this "a small victory"? She calls his attack "unprovoked" and he whines "You kissed me" and she thinks that's cute and makes it all okay? Jesus, I'm actually glad when Mia shows up and screeches them back to the house, and I fucking hate Mia with every fiber of my being. Every character in this book has exactly one dimension, and Mia's is "spoiled brat who thinks everything she does is cute and thinks it's fun for other people when a 20 year-old acts like she's 6."

Elliot and Kate are leaving, and we're constantly told how their demonstrative affection is so annoying, you guys, and I still don't understand why that is. Ana and Mia are always offended by watching a couple in love be cute with each other, and, I mean, Ana, who are you to judge?

Stop everything for a moment: Ana and Mia? Ana...Mia? Like Ana/Mia, like Ana and Mia the nicknames for anorexia and bulimia? What the hell? And also, how fitting. In much the same way this novel is for idiots who think abuse is merely an intense variation on romance, the girls who go around talking about Ana and Mia are idiots who think eating disorders are merely a lifestyle choice. I hate this idiot book more and more with each chapter.

So, Kate and Elliot are leaving, and Anastasia is really mad about Kate antagonizing Christian, to which Kate answers "He needs antagonizing; then you can see what he's really like. Be careful, Ana--he's so controlling." Which is just funny and ironic, because so is Kate, when you really think about it. I used to see this happen all the time as a teenager: you have two friends, and one of them is clearly the dominant friend, and then the dominant friend gets pissed off when the submissive friend gets a boyfriend who becomes the new focus in her life. Cue the empty "You've really changed" whining.

The thing I have a problem with is that Kate could just sit down and talk to Ana about her concerns like a real friend, but instead just makes these passive-aggressive comments or drops these bombs in the middle of casual conversation, so it doesn't seem like she's antagonizing Christian at all: she's antagonizing Ana.

And it's not like that works with people, because Ana defensively thinks "I KNOW WHAT HE'S REALLY LIKE--YOU DON'T!" So, congratulations on putting her in the position of defending her abuser. By making catty, shady comments, you're just making her feel stupid, and she'll just respond by hewing more closely to the unhealthy situation she's in. I've seen that in a lot of relationships, too. Hell, I spent a lot more time than I should have with someone who emotionally and psychologically abused me just because my parents decided to have a big confrontation with me about how I was staying out too late. I felt forced into saying that I loved this person that I didn't simply because I was put on the irrational defensive.

Christian and Ana decide to leave, too, and his family is being very sweet and kind to her and accepting her with open arms, which Ana basically says is more than she can handle. I don't have a problem with that, because I understand those self-esteem issues very well. What I do have a problem with is Christian telling his family not to "spoil her with too much affection," because he doesn't want his toy discovering she's a thinking person who can make her own decisions. Classic abuser move: don't let her feel too good about herself, because that inspires independent thinking.

That he even has the balls later to praise her in the car--"Why are you so filled with self-doubt? It never ceases to amaze me."--is just more abuse. It's like he's training her to only expect reassurance from him and no one else. Again: classic abuser move.

So, Ana wants to go visit her mom in Georgia, so Christian asks if he can come with. You know, can't give her too much freedom, she might remember she's a person. The book sort of tries to play it like she's met his family, and now he wants to meet hers, but I can see through it. Since when is he interested in anything that happens to her unless it directly effects him? She says she's having second thoughts, and he's clearly starting to worry about her not signing up with him.

He's really confrontational here, wanting to know why she's having second thoughts. Dude, when a woman says she needs space to think, you be respectful and give it to her instead of, say, showing up at her apartment and fucking her into submission.

Here are some things Ana thinks, but doesn't say, about her second thoughts:

:: "Because I think I love you, and you just see me as a toy. Because I can't touch you, because I'm too frightened to show you any affection in case you flinch or tell me off or worse--beat me?"
:: "I don't want to lose him. In spite of all his demands, his need to control, his scary vices, I have never felt as alive as I do now."
:: "Deep down, I would just like more, more affection, more playful Christian,"

She's deeply confused. She's got a lot of things to think about. It's like she knows she's in an abusive relationship but won't just pull the ripcord and get out. What she needs is time in a loving environment to sort it all out, and that's exactly what Christian doesn't want her to have. And then we get this gem:

"This man, whom I once thought of as a romantic hero--a brave shining white knight, or the dark knight as he said. He’s not a hero, he’s a man with serious, deep emotional flaws, and he’s dragging me into the dark. Can I not guide him into the light?"

That pretty much sums up everything that's wrong here. This love conquers all bullshit that so much of modern pop culture seems to be built around. You can't change a man into a better person by just staying in an abusive relationship: staying in the relationship is just positive reinforcement of his abusive tendencies. The idea that we should glorify an abusive relationship into a romantic one is just fucked up and wrong. And constantly trying to portray Christian as a broken child who needs love to be redeemed is disgusting and manipulative.

None of this in the book is deconstructed or contextualized. Because we're constantly in Ana's head and that's the only perspective we get, and she's that kind of socially awkward where she barely interacts with others, it's easy to see how he preys on her and how that predation is normalized. Attention = good feelings. Abuse = attention, therefore abuse = good feelings. Sex = good feelings. Abuse = sex, therefore abuse = good feelings. So, you know, if a man hits you against your will and rapes you and spanks you when you try to assert your feelings, it's just because he loves you and he's so broken that abuse is the only way he can show it. And if you're in an abusive relationship, just stay in it and try to fix it, because eventually you can redeem him by loving him enough. Remember what you learned and internalized on the playground: if a boy bullies and hits you, it's really only because he likes you.

But the same way Christian can't fuck Ana into liking BDSM, she can't love him into respecting her. It doesn't work that way.

This is a depressing, disgusting book.

So she finally says to Christian, again: "I still want more." And he promises to try. And we still have no idea if they're supposed to be a couple or a business arrangement, but they really need to pick one and stop being assholes. She also agrees to try, which I think she's clearly been doing. She's met him more than halfway on this stupid thing.

She even agrees to sign the contract on the spur of the moment, but Christian, in a rare moment of magnanimity, tells her to wait until she's come back from Georgia and had time to think. (Watch, though: I'll bet you a thousand bucks when she gets to Georgia it's constant emails and phone calls from him.) It's all just more manipulation to give her the illusion of free will, because even as he's telling her to take her time, he's asking her to stay over, and then when they get home, he immediately becomes controlling. It all becomes innuendo and orders and threats about when and where they'll eventually fuck, and then he starts being cute and of course she loves it, and it just all smacks of toying with her. He's trying to give her what she wants so that she won't think it's time to run when she lands in Georgia. (He's not going, which I hope means we'll eventually find out that he's Ana's mom's mysterious third husband, because when you're going this perverse mentally, you might as well go all in with your depraved bullshit.)

Christian's going to give Ana her vanilla sex and sleeping together, but she wants to touch him, too, and there's no way Christian's doing that. In fact, he gets really irritated and starts to throw one of his, I guess, sexy temper tantrums when she presses him on why. Protip: a relationship that is threatened by the truth is not a relationship worth having.

Ana thinks "I need to be able to show him affection--then perhaps he can reciprocate."

You're not studying chimps, Ana. You are talking about your relationship the way people talk about making contact with other species. Stop trying to fix him; you're not qualified. You were an English major.

So she tries to bargain background information--"I want to know you better"--for sex, which amuses him in that condescending way. He decides, instead, that he's going to put Ben Wa balls inside of her and spank her and then fuck her and then, if she's still awake, she can ask him a couple of questions. Because of course this is what happens. And she goes along with it, and he keeps telling her--reinforcing--that this is for their pleasure, not a punishment. (And certainly not to evade any personal questions, I mean, come on.) It's boring and endless--I mean, the sex isn't even that good, so I don't get the attention given to this book--and even afterwards he keeps trying to avoid her questions.

Finally, he lets out with: "The woman who brought me into this world was a crack-whore, Anastasia. Go to sleep." She died when he was four.

This is one of those moments that's presented like another psychological key, like this explains how broken he is and why he can't be touched, and it just makes Ana feel sorrier for him and what a victim he is and she thinks about the sad little boy he must have been.

She's got it wrong. Because it's really this: random misogyny. It doesn't explain away or excuse why he doesn't like personal closeness (foster family notwithstanding, apparently). It just explains that he feels he has a right to be an abusive rapist because women need to be punished for the woman that didn't make him feel loved.

Everyone needs psychiatric care. Including me, for reading this.

Six more chapters left, guys. 146 pages to go.

I want to leave you with two thoughts before I close out: Consent is not the absence of a no, it's the presence of a yes. And BDSM is not abuse, and abuse is not BDSM.

Stay safe, everybody.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #4

"Nothing Can Stop the Sandman" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(September 1963)

What's so great about Amazing Spider-Man is that, whatever's going on, it's really a book about how difficult it is to be Spider-Man. Which means it's really a book about how hard it is to be a teenage boy. Outside of this issue's villain, Spider-Man has to deal with the fear-mongering of J. Jonah Jameson's anti-Spider-Man campaign, his tenuous position as a costumed vigilante, and having to repair his own ripped mask. But on top of that, as Peter Parker, he has to deal with financial burdens, bullying at school, and caring for his over-protective aunt. The self-confidence issues alone are pretty staggering, and even still he's in the position of defending a school full of students who think Spider-Man is a hero, but despise Peter Parker.

Added to all this is that Sandman is a real threat. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko invent some pretty great villains. Sandman isn't Doctor Octopus--that's a pretty high bar--but he's capable of killing Spider-Man. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did something great last issue when they created Doctor Octopus: they gave Spidey a villain who could not only defeat him, but kill him. It's a great pattern. It's not exciting to watch a hero fight someone he can get the drop on handily. What makes Amazing Spider-Man so suspenseful is that his victories aren't assured.

This issue starts with Spider-Man getting the drop on some hoods who are casing one of Marvel New York City's many, many jewelry stores. Rather than surrender, the hoods figure Spider-Man has no real legal authority, so they threaten to sue him for assault and call a cop over. Spidey, realizing he has no evidence (he didn't wait until they actually broke into the store), simply takes off, embarrassed.

Spotting a police chase, Spidey sees the suspect headed to a rooftop. And that's where he gets his ass kicked by the Sandman. Not only is he a bad guy who gets the drop on Spider-Man with his powers, he also taunts Spidey about it while he's doing it. Sandman can make himself sandier, so Spidey's punches harmlessly pass through him, or harder, so that Spider-Man almost breaks his fist on Sandman's jaw. Once again, Spider-Man's humiliated, and we all remember how badly he takes defeat. He's forced to flee when Sandman rips his mask; Peter can't let anyone see his face, and imagines all of the consequences of people knowing who Spider-Man is. (He even imagines Aunt May homeless on the street selling shoe laces out of a tray!) So Peter Parker runs off, the Sandman still taunting him, his failure burning in his ears.

After spending half the night sewing his mask back together (with frequent interruptions from Aunt May), Peter stops by the Daily Bugle offices to ask J. Jonah Jameson for an advance, which of course makes JJ explode. He was already in a foul mood--the night before, Spider-Man had left sticky webbing all over Jameson's chair, ruining a perfectly good pair of pants. Now, I don't think this counts as one of those karmic moments where Peter's impulsive mean streak comes back to haunt him--it's not like J. Jonah Jameson is going to give you or anybody else an advance in the first place--but it's probably not a good idea for Spider-Man to keep antagonizing the guy who's trashing your reputation; he just trashes harder. To add another humiliation to the pile, Peter is forced to break his date with Liz Allan--and I'm not sure how he even managed to get one in the first place!

On the run from the police, Sandman decides to hole up in Peter's high school, where he immediately starts threatening Principal Davis and demanding a diploma, because why not? When you think you're on an unstoppable roll, you get ridiculous. Peter changes into Spider-Man to get Sandman away from the kids. For all of his faults--namely arrogance and a mean streak--Peter feels it's his duty to defend his fellow students, even as he thinks about how he's fighting to protect the very kids who bully and tease him.

The fight itself is fantastic; Steve Ditko's art conveys both suspense and clarity of action. I can't overstate the importance of clarity. That's the reason I don't like the overwhelming majority of modern comic art, which hews to closely to the Jim Lee/Rob Liefeld/Todd McFarlane school that I always want to call "Coolness Is Everything." That's where artists sacrifice anatomy, clarity, logic, emotional believability, sincerity, communication and style in favor of slick embarrassments like this. The panels of this scene never stretch the bounds of credulity, even though it features a guy who can turn his body into sand trading fists with a guy who can jump and crawl like a spider. The art never crosses that weird line into out and out ridiculousness, which is its own skill, because you never know for sure where the line is, but you know damn well when it's been crossed.

The way Spider-Man defeats Sandman is just the right amount of goofy and functional to be fun: he sucks him into an industrial vacuum cleaner. I mean... that's kind of brilliant. It's like how I kept reading those early Ant-Man stories and kept saying "Just step on him, already." Or like I yelled at a character in a horror movie not to go in there, and they didn't go in there. I mean, it's so simple it's almost elegant: just vacuum him up, already.

Not only is it a victory for Spidey, he also throws a bunch of sand from a fire bucket into the air and punches it around to pose for pictures of Spider-Man locked in deadly combat with the Sandman. So, to recap: Peter Parker got the best of a taunter by making him look stupid and got paid for half-assing his work. On the internet, we call that... the dream. You, sir, lived it.

But, of course, this is Amazing Spider-Man, so Peter's victory doesn't live long. He asks Liz Allan if she's still up for that date he had to break, but she's already going out with Flash Thompson, whose taunting is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Peter actually shoves Flash and raises a fist before stopping himself.

After tasting triumph, it's the bitterness of defeat that fills Peter's mouth. And another adventure of Spider-Man ends in self-doubt and confusion.

This is a great issue of a great comic book.

Stray Notes:

:: As always, Steve Ditko's art is amazing. The Sandman is a character with great visual possibilities: physically, he's like an evil version of Reed Richards, stretching out his body or simply dissipating into sand.

Flint Marko, the Sandman, got these powers through a nuclear accident. He was hiding on a beach outside a testing facility, and somehow the radiation merged his molecules with the sand molecules around him. Good thing there weren't any needles on that beach!

In addition to being a great menace for Spider-Man (the guy can turn his hands into anvils), it also makes him a great bank robber: he can put his finger in the lock, contour it to the key's exact shape, harden his finger, and then simply turn and unlock the vault. Convenient.

:: "Boy, if the world ever found out that Spider-Man had to carry an umbrella and promise not to exert himself!!!"

:: This issue introduces us to Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson's pretty, young secretary.

:: Boy, those are some freakishly excited kids.

Apparently the brunette girl in the lower right corner is supposed to be Jessica Jones. (Well, not supposed to be, but given that assignation by later writers.) I don't really know much about Jessica Jones; she's one of those characters who emerged during the 12 or 15 or more years when I wasn't following Marvel Comics anymore. I had no idea she was supposed to have been a classmate of Peter Parker's until I read about it just now on Marvel Wiki.

:: When the police gather outside of the high school, J. Jonah Jameson urges them to just go in and overpower the Sandman, regardless of all the kids trapped inside. JJ reminds me of those assholes on Fox News who hear about school shootings and wonder why someone didn't just run up to a guy with an armory of weapons and start smacking him around in the way they consider manly.

He also becomes hysterical when the police don't move to apprehend Spider-Man as well as the Sandman. One cop even says that the police force appreciates Spider-Man's help! The kids love him, the cops understand what he's trying to do, but it's always the voice that screams the loudest about how bad you are that rings in your ear.

:: "Hey, what gives? You oughtta feel his arm under this jacket, Flash! Parker's got muscles like a weightlifter!" Remember, real strength is knowing when not to fight.

:: In the letters page, Stan cops to the mistake of calling Peter Parker "Peter Palmer" throughout the Chameleon story in Amazing Spider-Man #1. There's also a letter from Paul Moslander, editor of the fanzine Jeddak. Stan explains, too, what happened to Amazing Adult Fantasy (sales weren't high enough to continue it), and Rick Wood of Tennessee thinks Peter's spider-sense is too much of a crutch. (That Chameleon story did make it look a little too much like ESP... well, it's kind of ESP, but it was almost magic in that story.)

Important announcements here: Amazing Spider-Man is going monthly, Spider-Man will appear in this month's Strange Tales Annual and cameo in this month's Fantastic Four Annual, but he won't be doing a lot of team-ups anytime soon. Also, something called X-Men is coming.

About that: September 1963 is one of the best months in the history of Marvel Comics. There is so much great stuff that I'm going to be getting to over the next couple of weeks, including X-Men #1, the huge Sub-Mariner story in Fantastic Four Annual #1, the big pairing of Spider-Man and the Human Torch (establishing their rivalry), a new issue of Sgt. Fury (always a big deal in my book), and the first appearance of the Super-Skrull. Not every story will knock it out of the park, but there's so much good stuff here! And in that vein...

Next Marvels: The return of the Hulk! The return of Loki! Earth's Mightiest Heroes! It's Avengers #1!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Marvels: Tales to Astonish #46

"...When Cyclops Walks the Earth" by Stan Lee, Ernie Hart & Don Heck
(August 1963)

I enjoyed this story, but there's not a lot to say about it. That's okay, because it's a lot of fun, which is unusual enough for an Ant-Man story. I didn't love the previous issue, but we are in an all-too-short period where the right creative team (Hart & Heck) have found the characters and the tone and are having a lot of pulp fun with Ant-Man. It doesn't really last long enough.

In this story, things are so quiet at home that Ant-Man and the Wasp decide they can take a vacation. They head for Greece to tour the ancient ruins, but start hearing tales about a Cyclops roaming an island and men who get too close disappearing. Their trip changes from a vacation to a monster hunt, but it turns out to be that already-old Marvel saw about aliens. The A-Chiltarians are planning an invasion of Earth and are using captives to study our weaknesses. (That's always funny to me; our weaknesses are pretty much anything, particularly lasers and puncture wounds, so it's not like in-depth research is really necessary.) The Cyclops is a robot the aliens are using to kidnap their subjects. So Ant-Man and Wasp save the day. That's pretty much it.

Stray observations:

:: It's official:

It's on the cover and everything.

:: I know I keep going on about this, but I really love Don Heck's art, particularly when he's inking himself.

I know I've compared his art to Robert McGinnis' James Bond art a number of times. It's just so dynamic. It reminds me of a lot of spy novel and sci-fi covers of the time period, and it makes the Ant-Man stories look very modern. Hart & Heck really take their time getting to the Cyclops, but I don't mind at all, because we get to see Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne in their vacation clothes walking among the streets, and it looks like a French New Wave film. I love it; it's very different from the look of the other books. I can almost hear the marimba playing.

:: In this issue, Jan appears as the Wasp at her real height; since Ant-Man has said that no one knows he's not really ant-sized, I wonder if this is supposed to be a big deal. The story doesn't make an issue of it, though, so probably not.

:: This is the story where it's clearly established that Hank is in love with Jan, but doesn't pursue her (other than, you know, partnering her and keeping her close and vacationing with her) because of her age and because he can't bear the thought of losing her like he did Maria. I wonder how often Maria will ever be brought up again...

:: Why are the Greek sailors so surprised about the Cyclops? Didn't they see the movie Namor made about the Fantastic Four? Remember that? Mr. Fantastic fought the actual Cyclops from Greek mythology; this is just an alien robot. Maybe Namor cheaped out when it came to the foreign distribution...

This is a fun issue; we've got the characters down, the story isn't too silly or lame, and Don Heck's art creates a real dynamism that has been missing from this character all along. I'll enjoy this creative team for as long as it lasts. (It's not that long.)

Next Marvels: enter Sandman. (Couldn't help it.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

J Is for (Billy) Joel

"Too bad, but it's the life you lead,
You're so ahead of yourself that you forgot what you need,
Though you can see when you're wrong,
You know you can't always see when you're right..."

That's from the song I think I go to the most when I feel bad: "Vienna."

Music is a strong factor in my attempts to be mindful. That's part of therapy; being aware and here and in the moment rather than all over the map, making catastrophes of things that haven't even happened. That's something I need to remember today: be mindful. Be here. Be present.

This morning, during a therapy session, I was sent to a community center to relax and be safe. I had an extreme panic attack. My therapist nearly sent me straight to the hospital. Things aren't going so well for me right now. I've been in a depressed period, so I tend to magnify every setback, and there have been some major setbacks lately. I'm processing too much as just confirmation of my schema of worthlessness. I have a hard time fighting it, because I've been operating on it for almost as long as I can remember. I came *thisclose* to winding up temporarily hospitalized today because of it. I'm at a very, very low point.

Probably the worst time period of my life was junior high. Not just because junior high, though that was a factor. There were a lot of things going on at that time that made me feel pretty shitty about myself; things which I may not have ever recovered from. That was also the time period when I really, really got into Billy Joel.

No one in my life has ever loved Billy Joel the way I do. I'm not saying that to be snobby about something I love. But I always get strange looks when I tell people that the reason I love Billy Joel is because so much of his music is filled with self-loathing, disappointment, and feelings of aimlessness. But it's there. He just addresses it through what sounds to a lot of people like cheesy pop music. (Here, "cheesy" is defined as "something of value delivered through a filter that you think you should be embarrassed by for some silly reason.") It's deceptively simple.

And yes, there is more: there's love, and longing, and joy, and reassurance. Every emotion I need to feed or need to assuage is in a Billy Joel song somewhere. That song I linked above has always sounded reassuring to me; a song that tells you that it's okay to not know everything and it's equally okay to slow down and not go faster than you're able to. It's the rest of your life: "Vienna waits for you." It's a song that knows that sometimes you need to hide, but it's not the end of the world when you do.

Another song that comforts me is "Captain Jack," which is kind of odd, because it's so dark. Maybe it's because I've felt as pathetic as the guy in the song before. Maybe it's because I'm comforted hearing the kind of aimlessness I have turned into something so soulful. The man knows from aimlessness. Listen to the lyrics of "I've Loved These Days": "I don't know why I even care/We get so high and get nowhere/We'll have to change our jaded way/But I've loved these days." I've never heard such a pretty song about getting mindlessly stuck in a routine. But I've been there before. And this song makes me feel elated, because it makes me feel like I'm not alone. Someone understands that feeling, and they made THIS out of it.

Billy Joel writes songs about how hard it is to overcome addictive behavior. He writes songs about feeling so overwhelmed that he's afraid he'll crack. He writes songs about bridging the gap of understanding. In one of my favorite songs, "She's Right On Time," he sums up how loving my wife makes me feel. Just like the guy in the song, I have the perfect woman, and I'd really rather just live with her and wait for her and support her than do anything else in my life. Sometimes I think loving her is the only thing I'm capable of, and the only thing I want to do well. It's all in one lyric: "I may be going nowhere, but I don't mind if she's there."

Billy Joel writes a lot of songs about love, but it's almost always the darker ones I like best, like "And So It Goes," with its perfect understanding of loneliness. It's almost like... a hymn about romantic trepidation and that weird, sad shred of optimism that really does lie under the resignation. Compare that to his hit song "The Longest Time," which is almost soaring with the flush of romantic fulfillment, in which he admits that love may be fleeting, but worth it: "I'll take my chances/I forgot how nice romance is." That song is boisterous and jubliant, consciously done in the style of the music he listened to as a boy, to heighten the sense of joy. (Which is the whole point of the album: even the closer, the bouncy "Keeping the Faith," with its endearingly goofy video and its nostalgic reminiscences carries the warning not to live in the past for too long, and the reminder that "The good old days weren't always good/And tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

But the song hitting me the most these days is from his very first album, 1971's Cold Spring Harbor, "Tomorrow Is Today." The lyrics are derived from a suicide note Joel wrote when he tried to kill himself by drinking furniture polish. A bandmate found him and took him to the hospital where his stomach was pumped. I relate to so many of the lyrics; the fear, the hopelessness, the sense that every day is the same and your situation will never change. The sense that there is no tomorrow; there's just another day like today, so what's even the point? That's how I felt today. That's why I was sent where I was... because I'm dealing yet again with the ideations of suicide which are never very far away.

"People tell me life is sweeter, but I can't hear what they say...
Nothing comes to change my life, so tomorrow is today

I don't care to know the hour, 'cause it's passing anyway...
I don't need to see tomorrow, 'cause I saw it yesterday

So I listen for an answer, but the feeling seems to stay...
And what's the use of always dreaming if tomorrow is today?"

I told my first therapist once that this is a song I love and keep going back to when I myself feel suicidal. She worried that it was reinforcing my thoughts of suicide. But actually, it's the opposite. The song isn't bitter. It has a quiet glory to it. It has a triumph; not in the lyrics, but in the music. This is Billy Joel exorcising a demon and feeling victory in his bravery. Because I think it takes a real bravery to sing your suicide note.

The song comforts me because I know there is someone out there who once felt like I do sometimes. Someone who felt the uselessness and sameness and defeat of it all and turned it into victory. He turned it into art. He turned it into life. That's what the music means. That's why the music is so triumphal: because even though he felt that way once, tomorrow isn't today.

Tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems.

Sometimes I need a reminder.

And thanks, Billy Joel, for that.

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

It's hard to describe this Werner Herzog documentary. The title has two meanings. Drawn to the South Pole and its various research labs by stunning underwater photography, Herzog films a number of people who are doing research projects. At first, it seems like a documentary about scientific research, but he becomes fascinated with the mindset of the kind of people who would leave society and come down to the land of endless daylight, far removed from human civilization? What draws them there? What do they hope to find? What is there to see? It's not just people; in the most haunting moment of the film, Herzog's cameras watch a penguin running away from its home, in the opposite direction of its food source, out into the forbidding wastes and the mountains of madness. The penguin researcher tells us that even if you were to stop the penguin and turn it on the correct course, some sort of derangement would just turn the penguin back around and it would keep going. I still think of this penguin. Where was it going? Why was it going there? What called it to run off from the protection of its society and leave everything behind? And that's, of course, the second meaning of the title; the film doesn't just go down to the world's furthest southern point. Herzog is also contemplating the extinction of mankind, and the way we have used our resources and taxed our planet. Herzog seems to feel that it's too late to turn around now; we're on our course, and even if we could be turned around now, perhaps we would just keep going, like that little penguin, optimistically rushing towards our doom, for reasons even we cannot explain. ****

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are the titular couple, sappy in their romance, and who want to make things better for the grumbling and bickering Donald Duck and Daisy Duck. Very cute. ****

In one sense, it comes across like a Veronica Mars reunion episode. It's for the fans. On the other hand, what impresses me is that it doesn't feel like you have to have seen an episode of the show to enjoy it. It enhances the movie, sure, but I don't think it's integral, and that's something I didn't expect. Of course, as one of the movie's many Kickstarter backers, I'm biased and it's entirely possible I'm not being completely objective, because I'm just so glad this movie even exists. And it's good. ****

Sunday, March 16, 2014


Happy Birthday, Ellen.

Song of the Week: "You Still Believe in Me"

Songs for Becca #6. I've talked so much about what the Pet Sounds album means to me that it would be ridiculous to go into it yet again. It resides deep in my soul and comforts me when I'm depressed. Each song seems to speak to some aspect of my fears, my beliefs, my hopes, my personality. This is the one that speaks to my disbelief that she's stayed with me all these years and hasn't given up on me. She tells me what I need to hear, even when I don't want to hear it. She's more patient with me than I am with myself. She still believes in me, and I am genuinely confused as to why. It's unfair of me, but my schema tells me that people who haven't abandoned me just haven't abandoned me yet.

I remember playing this album for her for the first time. I'm still not a hundred percent sure she likes it. I remember this song really struck her because of the pretty opening (plucked piano wires) and the bicycle horns and bells. That's another reason why this is the song on the album that always makes me think of her.

Like Andy Lippincott, this is the album I want to listen to as I die.