Twenty Eighth Kindling – Hello, I am a Millennial

millennial

I am an Education Consultant.

The title awards the position a sense of dignity, if only a modicum. We consult, rather than tutor. There is a hierarchy of roles in the for-profit education universe. You have the tutors, the counselors, the consultants, the program directors, the center managers, the managing consultants, and the senior consultants… circling back to assistants, assistant directors, lead consultant, head consultant, account executive, regional director…

But we flash back to a phone call with dad, a few months ago.

I am a rapidly aging specimen of the Millennial Age, who has watched his peers, one by one, graduate into adulthood, through the portal of marriage, and kids, and two kids, and three (?!) kids, pets, and minivans, and, and… beyond.

My dad wants to know if I’m dating anyone. I say yes. But we don’t discuss her. Parents don’t approve of her. Why? She’s not ethnically homogenous. But what about the kindness of her heart, the warmth she embodies, the feeling I get, of being cared for? No matter. She is not one of us.

Speaking of which, Dad has a friend, lives in New York. (In my head, I note that fact: 3000 miles away, check) His friend has a daughter. He is one of us. She is looking for a husband. But, he sheepishly jokes, “I don’t know what to tell him when he asks what do you do for a living!” And I see that choo-choo-train of life advice heading around the corner with gusto, a mile away. About what I really should be doing with my law degree. I swiftly knock it off its rails before it rounds the bend.

Why can’t you tell him the truth?! That I am an education consultant!

“A consultant?” That’s a new label for him. “Is that what you do?”

I say yes.

He pauses, but then he leans in, for a roundhouse kick to the gut. “Yeah, but that’s just the same thing as a tutor at a tutoring center. What’s the Difference?”

The Difference?

I don’t know where to start.

Maybe I can start with how the scale with which he measures, to begin with, is all wrong — and then maybe I can go into a heartfelt speech about how I feel like I am helping kids.

But I don’t quite get there.

The darkness deep inside me reaches out and strangles the jugular, so it can only speak in hurt, defensive terms, lashing out with the kind of bile you know you will regret later.

Why do you always do this? Why do you always belittle what I do? Why can’t you respect what I do?

And now the conversation has degraded into a shouting match, and I emphatically push the Off button on my phone, mid-sentence. Another institution, from which I detach myself.

Hello.

I am a Millennial.

Twenty Seventh Kindling – Opening The Floodgates

DogvillePhoto: Framegrab

Dogville Photo: Framegrab

I am a sucker for comfort.

When I find something I like, I go back to it again and again. It’s why I order a venti americano with a splash of milk, no sugar, every time I make a Starbucks run, without fail. It is also why, as a child, I’d find a couple of movies I liked, and would watch them over and over again. For me that movie was the Back to the Future trilogy. For me that movie was Home Alone. For me that movie was Aladdin, Lion King, and all of the other classics that were trotted out of the Disney treasure trove.

Those movies were fun. They were familiar. They were entertainment. You would pop in a VHS (remember those things?) and stay transfixed for hours. And then a film came and changed the entire experience for me. Movie-watching became more of a philosophical experience, rather than one of sheer pleasure. A film came along and taught me that within all of its powers, resided the power to challenge my core beliefs and change the way I think.

That film, for me, was Dogville.

By Lars von Trier.

I remember watching the ending credits scroll up, to the tune of David Bowie’s “Young Americans,” as a series of photographs depicting depression-era zeitgeist was portrayed on the screen – and my figurative jaw just dropped to the bottom of the floor. I couldn’t believe what I had just seen.

And so, I toss out this question to fellow cinephiles – what film opened the floodgates for you? What film changed the way you looked at films forever, hungry for just one more experience like that – searching for that next discovery of an auteur in full control of his/her powers?

Twenty Sixth Kindling – The Roommate

peeing

our hero suddenly wakes up in the middle of the night.

he needs to urinate. he stumbles to the toilet, half awake. he aims his penis, with the best of intentions, at the toilet. he largely succeeds with his aim, but of course, he also largely does not. the urine splashes down on the bathroom floor – the sheer quantity so great, that one could not help but assume some must have splashed, dispersing the golden droplets towards his ankles: a gentle reminder that yes, you are human, yes, you missed this time, and yes, you should probably clean it up. alas, our hero is undeterred. such efforts are beneath him. and for one, the potential stench does not faze him, for he encounters such evils regularly in the confines of his own room. heroically, he stumbles back to that same room, defiantly shrugging off the faint remnants of his conscience. “to hell with them!” he rages. “and you know what? i ain’t flushing either!” and with that, our quixotic hero tiredly rests his stained ankles upon his bed and continues his nightly slumber.

–the next morning–

our hero rubs his eyes. he remembers that the bathroom smelled bad, but did it always smell this bad? he stares down at the toilet, at the clean batch of toilet water that reappears with the magic of every flush. suddenly, he remembers. “wait one second. did i not urinate last night? and hadn’t i declined the time-honored privilege to flush so that i could see that beautiful golden urine glisten against the fluorescent light again this morning? what is the meaning of this?!” and then it hits him. he has a roommate, a roommate that stays up during the odd hours of the night and probably had used the toilet the night before. then he looks down. he sees the golden stains streaking across the bathroom floor, reminding him of his heroic deeds last night. he shrugs. it wasn’t anything a dirty old bathroom rug couldn’t handle. he carefully places the rug over the stains, walks out the bathroom, and carries on with his day.

Twenty Fifth Kindling – Diatribe

Diatribe

nick is at it again. he is ranting and raving about something. about what? who can even remember at this point? he could be ranting about “coal farms,” about the “inception of writing,” or about “the die” having been “casted.” the point is, he is ranting. and as he is nearing the end he punctuates his rant, referring to it as his “diatribe” for good measure.

suddenly, our hero perks up. he senses that something terrible has just happened. in fact, it is not so terrible, but a common occurrence. nick has misspoken, butchering the english language in a way that only he can. our hero focuses his attention on the use of the word “diatribe.” he’s seen it used before, perhaps on comedy central, perhaps on the cartoon network. and he’s seen words similar to it, like “dialogue” or “dichotomy.” and he knows what the prefix “di” means. it means two! and thus, a “diatribe” can only happen between two people! yes, he’s got it, he finally figured out where nick had gone wrong! now it was time to assert his intellectual dominance.

“nick, you dumbass. a diatribe can only happen between two people. what you just did was more like a monologue or a soliloquy. you know, the prefix di? as in two? as in dialogue?” for good measure, our hero wants to throw in the word “dumbass” a second time, but figures it might be overkill. so he does in his head. dumbass.

nick is confused. “oh really?” yes, really. dumbass. our hero feels content.

“yeah, nick, he’s right,” chimes in a third voice from the table. “everything that starts with ‘di’ involves two people. you know, like diarrhea?”

our hero perks up, in alarm. did i just make a mistake? are there some words that start with di but do not mean two? no, there is no way, he reassures himself. that was just a joke. not very funny, but a joke nonetheless.

dumbass.

Twenty Fourth Kindling – Todo Sobre Mi Madre

Tudo-sobre-minha-mãe1

“They always change the title! All About Eve should be Todo Sobre Eva,” Esteban complains to his mother, Manuela. Esteban had just noticed that the subtitles to the movie they were watching, All About Eve, had butchered the translation of the title to “Eva Unveiled” in Spanish.

Todo Sobre Eva sounds odd,” retorts Manuela, nonchalantly. A few seconds later, Almodovar, in deadpan fashion, flashes the title of his film down the center of the screen (screenshot below). ‘Todo Sobre Mi Madre,’ it says, in large block letters of red and white, as we hear Esteban’s voice muttering “future Pulitzer winners” in response to a question his mother had asked him.

As shown in this scene, Todo Sobre Mi Madre is filled with juxtapositions, at times humorous (the juxtaposition of the introduction of the title ‘Todo Sobre Mi Madre’ and Esteban’s voice muttering “future Pulitzer winners”) and at times, as a literary experiment (the parallels in All About Eve to that of Todo Sobre Mi Madre). In this entry, I will focus on how Almodovar unveils familiar concepts and themes, juxtaposing a new situation to its more familiar parallel, in order to create something a la Almodovar.

While the parallels to All About Eve are abound throughout Todo Sobre Mi Madre, the dominant literary text permeating throughout the entire film is Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. It is from this play that Almodovar mines the necessary emotional content to accentuate his heroine, Manuela.

In order to illustrate further, I will compare the following two scenes:

First Scene:
In Madrid. Manuela is a spectator. Her son is sitting to her left. They are watching Stella (performed by Nina) make an impassioned vow.”I will never come back to this house again! Never!”While Manuela does not shed tears, it is clear by the contortions in her expression that she is extremely moved by the scene. Esteban even asks her after the play, “Nina Cruz must have really moved you,” to which Manuela says, “No, it’s Stella.”

Second Scene:
In Barcelona. Manuela is a spectator. There is an empty seat to her left; her son is dead. She is watching Stella (performed by Nina) make the same impassioned vow. This time, Manuela tears up.

We finally see Manuela tear up in the second scene because this time, Stella’s plight means more to her. As she left Barcelona as a young woman, carrying Esteban in her womb, Manuela herself had vowed that she would never return again, fleeing from Lola for a more stable environment for her son. However, now, for the very same reason (for Esteban) she left, Manuela finds herself back in the city she vowed never to return to again.

Through replicating the situation, but layering each with a different set of emotional cache, Almodovar breathes life into Manuela, an Almodovar creation, as opposed to a mere replica of Tennessee Williams’s Stella. Furthermore, each time Almodovar juxtaposes the character of Stella with that of Manuela, we are able to gain further insight into Manuela’s character, for not only do we have the emotional context of Manuela within the frames of Todo Sobre Mi Madre, but we also have the added context of Stella from A Streetcar Named Desire. In some ways, Manuela is not complete without the context of Stella.

This is why Manuela matters so much to us. It is Almodovar’s layering of various familiar literary contexts upon her that allows us to identify with her on a multitude of levels, as Manuela, as Stella, as Eve, and of course, as a Mother.

Twenty Third Kindling – Fitzcarraldo

fitzcarraldo

“In the dynamical sublime there is the sense of annihilation of the sensible self as the imagination tries to comprehend a vast might. This power of nature threatens us but through the resistance of reason to such sensible annihilation, the subject feels a pleasure …” -Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment [translated, paraphrased]

In describing a meeting with skeptical investors upon the repeated failures of the Fitzcarraldo production, Werner Herzog describes what fuels his indomitable obsession. If there ever was any doubt that the production of Fitzcarraldo would trudge on, its clumsy momentum and all, Herzog shatters it by articulating the nature of his drive:

“I don’t want to be a man without dreams.” -Herzog, Burden of Dreams

He spits out those words with the look of a man who cannot imagine otherwise. What, then, is the substance of these “dreams”? And, for that matter, how did these “dreams” manifest itself in the form that it did, in the form of Fitzcarraldo?

Immanuel Kant speaks of the great “dynamical sublime” force that resides within nature. Fitzcarraldo is Herzog’s own direct challenge to the “dynamically sublime,” which he finds both beautiful and terrifying. Having chosen the prosperous Amazon rainforests as his point of battle, Herzog assures that his struggle will be awash with overwhelming juxtapositions of the magnificent and the horrific.

Herzog often speaks of the “ecstasy of truth” in relation to what he refers to as the “accountant’s facts.” To get at a deeper sense of truth, Herzog argues, one must look past facts (even manipulate or discard them, at times). The following quote, (from an exasperated Herzog, having experienced yet another setback in the jungle) more than any enumeration of facts and events could, illustrates the extent of the Amazon’s great ‘wrath’ – which Herzog had to endure, in the grand chase for his dreams.

“It is the harmony of… overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle – Uh, we in comparison to that enormous articulation – we only sound and look like badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a stupid suburban… novel… a cheap novel.” -Herzog on the Jungle, Burden of Dreams

When one of the three boats used to portray the indomitable Molly Aida finally peaks its way over onto the summit of the mountain, pointed towards the sky, struggling to inch its weighty mass over the edge of the mountaintop, I see flashes of Herzog’s defiance. And the image that appears in my head is quite clear – this is Herzog flipping the proverbial bird (or boat, in this case), a giant “Fuck you, I did it!” – one man’s defiance reaching its pinnacle. Through the countless obstacles Herzog had faced in his insistence of actually pulling the 30-ton steamship over the mountain, rather than accepting such a “sensible annihilation” of his dreams in a practical manner; the film-maker did not budge, refusing to let the pleasure of such defeat (as Kant would have it) be the sole legacy of the great monstrous dream that Fitzcarraldo had become. The cheap, suburban novel had, at least momentarily, achieved extraordinary success.

However, it would once again be humbled, but with Herzog’s blessing, this time. Perhaps in his search for the “ecstatic truth,” though the forces that be in the Amazon allow the Molly Aida to navigate up its mountains, Herzog decides that in the end, the jungle should have its way. By instructing the natives to cut the boat loose not long after it had reached the summit, Herzog willfully acknowledges his respect for the jungle. By such willful surrender, the ambitious film-maker, who had, up to that point, declared war on the jungle, acquiesces, and relinquishes his “bad pronunciations” and “half-finished sentences” to the great, formless tome of the “dynamical sublime.”

Herzog ends the same maniacal rant on nature (depicted above) with this confession:

“There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the jungle. It is not that I hate it, I love it. I love it very much. But I love it against my better judgment.” -Herzog, Burden of Dreams

Finally, Kant, in describing the effect of the sublime on the soul, seemingly gets to the essence of Herzog’s struggles in Fitzcarraldo:

“(the sublime) raises the soul’s fortitude above its usual middle range and allow us to discover in ourselves an ability to resist which is of a quite different kind…” -Kant, Critique of Judgment

Twenty Second Kindling – Exhaling With Great Force

blowhard

Like, My Favorite Phrases Ever:

1) “Not to be a (blank), but…” [and then, continues to be a (blank)]

2) “Last time I checked…”

3) “…that’s what I think. Period!”

4) “As a society, we need to…”

5) “I’m just being honest…”

6) “Why aren’t we talking more about…”

7) “It is important to remember…”

8) “I disagree. I know a guy who…” [and then, confuses the difference between anecdotal evidence and statistical evidence]

9) “…it is what it is.”

10) “…well, let’s agree to disagree.”