Sometimes things just get you, you know? They move past the effectiveness of their particular medium and take hold of you personally. They feel like they came from and were made for a certain part of you. That’s been this week for me. With movies and literature and TV and tonight music. Maybe I’m just in that place right now, that’s possible. But whatever the case, they’re finding their way to me and I am happy for it.
Many people read “Where the Wild Things Are” as a kid. I didn’t but sure wish I had. The movie evoked so much in me (I wrote a full review of it here). Scenes of its main character playing alone. Playing in the snow. His rage. His recklessness. His love. All of them smashing into each other. The powerful line KW says to him: “Don’t go. I’ll eat you up, I love you so.” The way the movie embraced danger in the same way I daydreamt about it as a kid; how much fun it would be to be in such a situation. I wanted it desperately. I fantasized about being a superhero who fought crime at night and did amazing things. I created storylines in my mind and replayed them alone on the bus. I was totally pre-occupied with them. This movie made me miss being a kid.
I love the late writer David Foster Wallace’s way he seems to smile sometimes through his pages as he plays with words. Sometimes it advances something, sometimes it’s just a treat. Other times, he nails turmoil so staggeringly that you hurt for him, even though he might be describing you. Here, in Infinite Jest talking about time and withdrawal:
Poor Tony once had the hubris to fancy he’d had occasion really to shiver, ever, before. But he had never truly shivered until time’s cadences— jagged and cold and smelling oddly of deodorant— entered his body via several openings—cold the way only damp cold is cold—the phrase he’d had the gall to imagine he understood was the phrase chilled to the bone—shard-studded columns of chill entering to fill his bones with ground glass, and he could hear his joints’ glassy crunch with every slightest shift of hunched position, time ambient and in the air and entering and exiting at will, coldly; and the pain of his breath against his teeth.
Also, HBO’s “In Treatment” for the way it confounds your expectations and reminded me that you can have effective drama with just two people, sitting in a room, talking. We watch them fail and learn and cry and get angry. More than any other show I can remember, it looks at the way people look while they listen. How communicative the eyes can be. 43 episodes of it and I was riveted.
Finally, The Decemberists. I’ve seen them many times before, I’ll see them again. But tonight was the only time I ever saw them alone. I didn’t like that part of it. It’s harder to share it. But oh how it felt like seeing old friends. I have a relationship with the music now. The animated Visualization of “The Hazards of Love” was stunning, but the music and the band’s own performance made me breathless. I felt lucky. I got to see it twice and now it is done. Never again to be performed live after this tour. How could it be? It’s over. But I saw it. Perhaps it was the animation or I don’t know what, but I kept noticing how emotional this album is. Can a thing be ornate and raw at the same time?
The feeling starts in my chest and rises— slowly at first, but increasingly fast—to my face. I instinctively smile when it gets there, which is partly my way of acknowledging it and partly my way of stalling it for a moment while I accept it. And in each case, the form of the thing, the way it is packaged in its particular artistic medium is part of the joy. Wallace’s words or Spike Jonze’s playful style; the daring simplicity of “In Treatment” and the immensity of The Decemberists’ sound. They’re like little presents, these things, that the artist cannot help but give. They come from a desire to share, to show for us. Even when they are dark, they seem prepared lovingly; with humanity. And they connect us to something outside and above and something paradoxically larger than ourselves but that is also within us, aching for us to see it.
For some reason, the last week I’ve been seeing it. I’ve been feeling it. Art reveals itself to us in the hope of helping reveal parts of ourselves we may not be aware of; that we forgot we had; that maybe we hoped were gone but aren’t; that we can’t believe; that have been waiting for us; that we desperately need even if we don’t think we do or can’t see why. It can help us get out of our own way. It can challenge us, even anger us. Anne Lamott puts it this (much better) way:
This is our goal as writers, I think; to help others have this sense of—please forgive me—wonder, of seeing things anew, things that can catch us off guard, that break into our small bordered worlds. When this happens, everything feels more spacious.
I read those words just before the concert started. Afterwards, I stood outside on the lovely UCLA campus, watching people filing away, down large staircases. I wrote a little about what I saw, how at home I felt on a college campus in the fall. And these things came trickling back to me. It feels good to be overwhelmed like this. Life does feel more spacious. Certainly not everything will make you feel this way, and most things that do aren’t trying to do that in the first place. It just happens sometimes. But it’s good and right and important to me to know that it can and be willing when it does.