Secret Pop

Dec 18, 2003

The Deep Breath Before the Plunge

I never quite got my fingers around the neck of today like I would have wanted. If I had, I would have shaken some sense into it.

But I did get to see The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, and I'm grateful for that. A strange thing happens for me with these movies. I am a devotee of the books, so I often have to try and curb my nitpickiness in order to try and enjoy the films in their own right. And, because my disappointment flared in the previous episodes only to later be assuaged in the special edition DVD releases, I tend to reserve absolute judgment altogether, lest I waste a great deal of vitriol on things that are destined to right themselves. It will take a year for me to be able to properly weigh what was wrought, and by then, I'll likely have forgotten a lot of what once hagrode me. The ire is temporary. And it seems to cauterize in its wake.

So, I watched and I wept (I do that a lot at the picture show -- dabbing at my eyes with the coarse corners of popcorn-soaked napkins and trying not to look a great fool) and I tried to remember the things that I know I would have wanted to remember. But as soon as a line would want to stick, it would occur to me that I'd already forgotten the last line that was supposed to be in the sticking place. Maybe I only have room in my head for one note at a time. Fortunately, in a matter of hours, the manic fanbase will have made a transcript of the movie available online, and I can go plumbing those depths at my leisure. See how easy it is to return a mountain to its molehill state?

To see a trilogy in annual succession in this way is also unique in that it spaces out your experiences and gives them these convenient markers. Each of these films came to me in the wintry times of my Los Angelism. The first year, I felt far from home. Alone in a new city. Cold and unsure of parking protocols. The second year, I knew my way to the theater, but there was the looming possibility that I would be leaving this city to go back to the one I previously called home. I couldn't let myself take root. And this year, here I am again. Or rather still. Still in the same zip code. Having just signed a new lease. Knowing I will be here for at least a little while longer. And yet I'm still in that waiting state. Not quite knowing how to pocket the holidays. Opening mail with a blank expression. Noticing when the sky is darker or lighter than usual but not going out into it very much. I live here, but I don't. In a way, I feel as if I don't live anywhere. Maybe because I sometimes feel that I don't live at all. That the light has gone out in me. Or the curtain has come down. Or the long-wearing mascara has called it a night. And then there are times when I thrill to each breath. Am dizzy with distraction and fervor and the way everything sort of flies past you like a fast-moving parade. Sometimes I look around and start to feel the room spinning, and I can't tell if I'm standing still. But all of it is fleeting. The drudgery and the delight. Inspiration. Deprecation. Despair. Demons. A kitchen that needs cleaning up. None of it lasts forever. None of it lasts for very long. You get through the worst things by knowing that they can be gotten through and that there is something on the other side worth seeing. Otherwise, no one would ever make it all the way to the Sistine Chapel. It's a long walk through many galleries -- many with prettily painted ceilings of their own. If you don't tell yourself there's something worth seeing up ahead, you might just sit right down in the middle of the place. And that would pose a nuisance. And you would miss out on lunch.

I suppose people who watched the original Star Wars trilogy may have similar spans marked for them, but the movies were released so much further apart that it would be hard to lay the spans down side by side and make anything of them. I never saw any of those films in the theater in their original releases. I was either too young or too living overseas or too the child of parents who don't take their kids to the cinema much. But when the special editions were released in 1997, I had the luxury of seeing them all on the big screen with only a month's wait separating them. It was good to get the whole scoop all at once. I had always felt a little left out. When dudes in my classes were carrying around Return of the Jedi lunchboxes, I didn't know what the word "Jedi" meant. The first time I saw Star Wars: A New Hope, it was airing on Guam network television on the one channel we got, and we taped it on our Betamax, commercial interruptions and all. And I watched it many times and noticed that my dad didn't seem to mind watching it with me. He used to get good and riled up during the final raid on the Death Star. He's a fan of action, my dad. For the record, I also did not see Grease until I was in my 20s. I think my sister and I assumed we weren't allowed to go to PG movies for a reason. When kids at school were singing about being born to hand jive, I assumed that was something dirty. And when the boys would sing that line from Greased Lightning, I had no idea what chicks creaming meant. I also had no idea that Greased Lightning was the name of a car. And that year my Halloween costume was made out of a paper bag. Just so you know.

Anyway, despite my nearly rabid dedication to the original texts, I really am so glad I got to see these movies. Glad that they were made. Glad I had the chance to have my love for the stories rekindled and reaffirmed. I realized at a young age that nothing shores up your convictions more than having to defend them. So even the things in the movies that jog my patience are good in that they force me to remember what I read and to tell myself what about it was important to me. Sparking debate is no kick in the teeth. I love to talk about this sort of thing. I could go on and on long into the night if I'm in willing company. Having those spots in my brain stimulated ranks in the height of pleasure.

And this third film did not disappoint me outright. Or raise my hackles to maddening levels. I did drop my jaw in a few places. I did occasionally peripherally peek at my companion to see if I was the only one bothered by this or that. I did laugh in places where laughing may not have been the desired response. And I did sigh in frustration once or twice, but in my defense, it was very late in the film and it could easily have sounded to others like yawning rather than the passive aggressive making of a scene. But so much of the movie touched me. So much that was missing from it or added to it prickled me. But I have reread the books recently enough that I can fill in many of the blanks internally and none of the meaning is lost. What a massive tool of metaphor is this tale. How many ways it can be applied to nearly anything that ever happens. I treasure the words. The ancientness of their cadence. I adore the universality. I embrace it and want to wrap it up in a giant squeeze of a hug. I want to draw it close. Because it is full of things that I feel and know and believe. In the end, Frodo asks, How do you go on when you realize there is no going back? And I got that feeling I get. That feeling I get when something is true. I think when things are true, they have a certain poetry to them. Effortlessly. When you find the way to say what is real, the words have a way of becoming a song. And songs have a way of sticking in your head.

I look for things every day -- in every moment of my life in every aspect of my experience -- that will guide me. Maybe the reason I love books and films about the seafaring life is that I envy a man who can work a compass and sextant. I envy a fellow who can trust his calculations and know exactly what course to take. To have that measure of certainty seems a great luxury to me. A great great luxury. I always feel as if I am reaching out in front of me as I enter a dark room with lots of debris on the floor, batting at the air with untrusting hands, afraid all the while that I am about to run into something and that it will be painful and humiliating. But sometimes, when I'm watching a movie, I get these little flashes of wisdom. Something makes sense to me for the first time. A puzzle piece falls into place. I relate. It also happens with books (which is why I keep a pencil handy for underlining) and with art and with music and with television. Sometimes, I feel as if a message is being sent to me personally, and I wonder if anyone else in the room is getting the same idea I'm getting. I'm so often disappointed to learn that something that meant a great deal to me had nearly no impact on someone close to me. So often frustrated to know that someone I care about can't see where I'm coming from or doesn't have that desire to step over and try to experience the sensation I'm having. I'm so busy wanting to share it all that I forget some of it is just for me. But that's why I never liked birthday parties where cupcakes were served instead of birthday cake. Individual servings can be so alienating. And they marginalize the competitive spirit inspired by more than one person wanting the corner piece or the frosting rose. If we take these things from children, how will anyone ever want to grow up to be president?

I make things mean more than they need to more often than not. I infuse moments with sentiment and assign absolute values to trivial details. I think it's how I keep the edges of things sharp. I worry about everything going into soft focus. I worry that, if I don't struggle to sustain everything that exists at any one time, I will lose it. Some of it or all of it. And what if I don't keep track? How will anything have meant anything at all if I don't pay close attention and put it all away someplace safe? Living in the moment has its vogue cachet, but I don't like to discount the importance of living in the past and in the future as well. If you can manage to be all of these places at once, surely you will have something to show for it. If I say the phrase "flux capacitor" now, it's only to further endear me to people who like me because I say things like "flux capacitor."

I received a bit of unwanted email from one Defecates L. Accumulation. Is there some proper name randomizing agent being used by the members of the spammers' guild these days? Annoyed and amused. That's me.

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