An ode to the uncertain

Last night I watched two movies about men whose lives were on the brink of failure and being lived with much confusion about how to be in the world in ways that don’t hurt others or themselves. One was Burnt with Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller. Although the storyline of an incredible talent who burned all his bridges but returns for another kick at the castle of life was predictable, I liked it. The main thing that stuck with me was when the therapist, played by the ever-brilliant Emma Thompson (adorned in stylish cotton moo-moos with beautiful Indian Batik patterns) said the simplest and most profound of things: we can’t always do everything on our own and it takes courage to need others. She’s right.

The second film was The Land of Steady Habits, which stars Ben Mendelsohn, Edie Falco (whose last name always makes me think of the strange 80s prog-rock song ‘Rock Me Amadeus’ by the band Falco), Thomas Mann, and Charlie Tahan. This one is more robust in its character development and traces more interesting avenues of human life. This includes the spaces of uncertainty. Mendelsohn plays a man utterly incapable of interpreting the complex emotional world around and within him. Yet, he’s also a pretty cool, weird guy who is admired and befriended by one of the other characters who is ignored by his parents. Solidarity in disenfranchisement.

I cringed so many times, wishing he would get his shit together. But, as I well know, if it was easy to do that we’d all have our ducks in a row and be consistently kind, un-lonely, and and and and and. But it’s not and the movie spends considerable time in moments of failure. It’s unpleasant to see people hurting other people and themselves, even in a movie. It feels bad and odd because it’s real; we’ve all done it and borne witness to it. No one has all the answers tucked away in little pockets that magically reveal themselves at just the right time. Life is not a fortune cookie. Even when/if we learn to love ourselves, which might be the most powerful and difficult thing to do, we live in imperfect worlds that make moving through life with that truth intact very hard.

It’s good to see these messy processes splashed on the screen, and it’s also good when the people we’re watching make some sort of progress. That’s where hope lives. Mendelsohn does come around after hitting a version of rock bottom, which involves seconding himself in a depressing roadside motel-hotel at Christmas time. He says to his son, who has been disappointed so many times by his dad but loves him anyways, that sometimes we need these moments of awfulness. He didn’t say much more, but he’s right. We do need those empty but not empty bare moments and days and months, sometimes, to stew in the primordial and self-generated mixture of what we’ve done, lived, pondered, regretted, wanted to do differently, inherited.

While watching these films I exchanged some texts with a person I’m set to meet tomorrow. OMG. This guy seems quite promising. He’s articulate and writes MORE THAN ME in text messages, which is a feat. I can’t do the one line back and forth, it makes my brain explode. I need to EXPLAIN myself. Life doesn’t congeal in my head in abbreviated form, far from it. Anyways, he is a good communicator and seems to care about me, already. I’m excited but nervous and feel myself trying to maybe find things I don’t like. Why? Self-preservation. An old strategy that needs to be revised, but it’s hard to do—especially when dating involves getting screwed over, over and over! How to be open but also safe, protected? As I watched the movies I tried to impress upon myself, in the dark in my living room with my old cat Shiva across from me, that I must give this a chance. I don’t want to be alone all the time, which is what I tell everyone…Uncertainty, they name is ME.

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