Light, loss & living for others

At the time of first trying to express my grief and gratitude–the news about Christopher Seguin’s sudden passing was very recent. Three weeks have since passed since the staggering loss. His celebration of life service was held on Saturday, October 14.  While sitting in the church, hearing about his life, attempting to comprehend the moment, working steadily through a box of tissues–I marveled at how his absence was a deeply felt presence in the packed room. 

There has been rumors and revelations–and while there should be appropriate and respectful channels to discuss and dissect the circumstances surrounding his death, but I won’t do that here.  Existence is a complex experience. We navigate through frameworks of social constructs, we play roles, we love and are loved, we lose and recover, we try and fail until the clock stops ticking–and we then become constellations in the vast atmosphere that is the human condition. 

I tried to capture a singular moment that reflected my memory of Christopher. Words failed as I reeled at the magnitude of the loss.  The tragedy is layer upon layer of agony and anguish for all who were impacted by his life and his loss– his family, his wife, his children, the community, the university–and on and on and on. My heart goes out to those hurting most–and I extend my loving thoughts outwards. 

….

The flags were flying at half-mast on and while I logically understood the reason, my mind revolted against the truth. I half-expect to see him somewhere on campus. However, that towering figure, that booming voice, that presence is gone—and that reality is simply too painful to bear.
To me, Christopher Seguin was like a classic movie star come to life in the modern age: strapping, stylish and smart—a gentleman and an adventurer—like Cary Grant from somewhere between The Philadelphia Story and Gunga Din.

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We met through the Kamloops Film Festival. He became a mentor, ally and friend.

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During a period of professional adjustment—when I was feeling rather lost in the world—Christopher offered direction.  He regaled me with a self deprecating tale about himself as a young, idealistic man writing a piece that he felt so proud of—only for it to never see the light of day.

This conversation took place during a quick walk around campus.  He stopped where we had started, about to set off in another direction.  “The writing is good”—he said, smiling, assuring. As he walked away, his coat collar popped against the crisp autumn weather, he tossed a final sentence over his shoulder “…but it could be better.”
Ah, that was a cool moment.
He wasn’t one to soften blows, he told you how it was. At the same time, he showed vulnerability while sharing stories of his own personal growth. He offered insights and advice, but tasked you with reaching higher levels of personal achievement. It’s good–but it could always be better.

In the first days of shock and sadness, while trying to occupy my unraveling thoughts–I thought a lot about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief–and tried to remember the DABDA scale from long-ago Psychology classes.

Denial:  “In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis or situation is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.”

Yes, the false, preferable reality seems reasonable to me.

As Joan Didion noted in her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking“, “I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed what had happened remained reversible.”

In grief, we are at war with ourselves, rallying against reason, and struggling to reconcile the loss. My mind wanders back and forth between fact and fantasy—I strive to create a world in which Christopher could overcome death. He had plans, goals and value

This. Cannot. Be. It.

And yet, it is. Waves of anguish crashing repeatedly, threatening to overwhelm you as you try to make sense of a senseless tragedy. Wrestling with memory and circumstance, burdened by the weight of  heartbreak, the clashing of absence and presence.

You were just here.

What is one to do when great lights are snuffed out? In that darkness you begin to realize how much these people were quiet architects to our growth and successes. There lies a portion of Christopher’s memory—his legacy resides in those he insisted do better.

As Margaret Atwood once said:

I hope that Christopher becomes more than that. I hope that he carries on in spirit through acts of service. As we move forward into the wilderness of grief and loss, I hope we carry along his memory. He was someone who urged us to excel beyond our wildest expectations–and to encourage others to do the same.  Instead of envisioning a great light dimming into darkness—imagine it fracturing into a million pieces—so that we could find it everywhere. As we move forward, may we absorb even a fraction of that energy, warmth and light.

 

 

Magic & the Big Reveal

Grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon. What can be more uneventful?  After leisurely sauntering through the aisles, I guided the trolley to the shortest checkout lineup.

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The cashier is a young woman. She is wearing pastel Easter bunny ears in commemoration of the upcoming holiday season.

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After a pedestrian exchange of pleasantries, she casually, yet conspiratorially reveals her evening plans in a manner of two gals chatting over cocktails. She’s seeing a man that she’s been “talking to…a lot.” Her mouth wraps around the words.

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“Have you met him before?” I ask, leaning in slightly.

“Yes, but this is the first time we’re going to really hang out. We have so much in common; there’s so much to talk about,” she sighs.  

That seizes my heartstring a little bit. That twitterpated-kind-of-feeling is simply magical.  And really, it’s the only thing in life that matters. That friendship connection. That spiritual recognition. When that you meet someone, and you know that you know. Or you know that you want to know them…you know?   It’s like finding other people that seem to share a slim fraction of some ancient soul.

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It’s also exactly like when Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly discover their commonalities after a brief feud in “Stepbrothers”.

“Did we just become best friends?”

“Yup!”

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The cashier was enthusiastic but cautious. Clearly, she’s been burned before.  “There are guys on ‘POF,’ that just message: “sex?” When it clearly says, ‘no hook ups’ on my profile.”

I furrow my brow trying to figure out what “POF” means. Finally blurting out “Oh, PLENTY OF FISH?”

“Yeah,” she says with just a hint of “Duh.” Obvs, lady, catch up.

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He lives alone. She still lives with her parents. As the owner of a rather sizable dog and rodent collection, she’s finding moving out a challenge.

The date will take place at his home (naturally). The plan is to watch YouTube videos.

The containment of her excitement is like steam whistling under a pot lid.

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“I’m looking for something lasting, you know? I just want to be honest. I just want to be myself.”

This girl hungry-hearted girl is killing me.  Jamming cans and loaves of bread together in the same bag, while pouring her soul and exposing her loneliness. She speaks with absolute certainty; as if she wants to believe it, but can’t quite conceive it.  As if love is like wanting to live on the moon and wear nothing but flamingo feathers and Chanel.

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“Well, that’s a healthy attitude,” I say, reorganizing  the provisions in the bags. “Sooner or later, our true selves come out.”

What is “our true selves” anyway? Under the aesthetics and armour we simply skeletons and skin stuffed with sad stories. We’re red hot messes, emotional icebergs, tangled twisted piles of traumas and tragedies.  Still, we cling to the veneer for as long as humanly possible don’t we?

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Whenever a relationship was on the cusp of ending– when all those red flags were flapping in the wind as the storm started to pick up, I’d think about the beginning. I’d remember being coy and unfamiliar as you approached intimacy. When you didn’t know about each other’s failings. You weren’t disappointed yet; you were all hopped up on the possibility of finding everything you were looking for. Isn’t that a Feist song? Let it Die?

“The saddest part of a broken heart/Isn’t the ending so much as the start…..the tragedy starts from the very first spark?”

Yes, yes it is, and now I’m listening to the album in its entirety. Let’s go down that emotional rabbit hole, shall we?

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“The last guy I was talking to, he met me once, and then never texted again. I mean, what did I do wrong? I wish he would just tell me,” the cashier huffed.

Sheesh, what do you say to a single bunny with shaky romantic past?

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Sometimes, it’s not about doing wrong; it’s about not being a right fit. Ultimately, it’s about not having the emotional connection that equates to the matching of ancient necklaces. Or you have the matching necklace, but you get taken you in opposite directions. It doesn’t make less of the love; it’s just that you sometimes just have to go.

OMG, this is SO Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford in “The Way We Were.” How those two couldn’t make things work out is beyond me. Still, the love is unending. In the final scene, she brushes the hair off his brow, and gives him a look that says, “Get out of here you gorgeous bastard before I kiss you on directly the mouth.”

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At the root of this fear, is that all magic is just an illusion? When we reveal our “true selves”, perhaps it’s more akin to wrenching the mask off a Scooby Doo villain as opposed to a magician pulling a rabbit out of a top hat.

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Where did I go wrong? Did I reveal too much? Too soon? Too late? Not enough? Too much? In the matters of love, a sleight of hand is essential part of the act.

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We all want to love and be loved, accept and be accepted. Meanwhile we build walls around ourselves to protect and defend from unknown enemies; we tear the wall down and then…build up new walls, brick by flipping brick. We trust, break trust, fail, fall, open up, clam up and clamor back up to seek that connection.

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I pay my bill, and wish ole bunny ears the best of luck with her evening plans. I leave the store, my mind buzzing from that conversation.  Love can be quite the magic trick. Some days it’s about illusions, distractions, angles and disappearing acts. Other times, it’s such an inexplicably magnificent experience that it’s best not to question the spectacle.

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Images Courtesy of Google, and the fine people behind the internet  

The Blahs, The Blues & The Bell Jar.

Can I just preface anything I write with…you know, I don’t have the descriptive capabilities to even preface these days.  Feeling a bit colorless.  I’m like Eeyore, but with Winnie the Pooh’s curves, and Rabbit’s irritability.

Usually I’m a big crier–commercials, novels, hunger, exhaustion. I’m like an over-sized toddler with the occasional grey hair. I’m feeling so blah that I’m not crying.  I wonder whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. There’s something to be said about a good sob.  Although come to think of it, like an idiot, I suggested watching Marley and Me last weekend. That was a huge mistake. Low-grade depression and movies about dogs is a dangerous cocktail. What a deceptive film.  Jennifer Aniston is wearing cut off shorts and flip flops on the movie poster, how serious can things get? Who would have a leash that long? Boy, that puppy sure does looks mischievous, I’m laughing already. This is going to be a easy-breezy casual cinematic experience.

Sure it starts off all light and fluffy, but then it all comes crashing down.

We’ve had Bluebear for over a year now, and I’m such an unabashed dog mama. Since dealing with this bad batch of the blues, Bluebear has been especially comforting. Though I feel like we’ve seen this movie in the past, it totally impacted me on a whole other level.  I once saw Marley and Me on a plane. I was in the middle of a really painful break up, and I arrived at the airport feeling rather unhinged. What does one do when feeling emotionally unstable in a claustrophobic environment? Drink wine, brood quietly and lose yourself in a bad-good movie; light, blonde and bubbly. No love stories need apply.  I chose Marley and Me because the Aniston+Wilson+Labrador Retriever seemed to meet the aforementioned requirements to surviving a long flight while in a dreadful mood. To my broken hearted-relationship centered head space, I realized that this movie wasn’t about a dog, it was about a marriage. That’s how I remembered the movie; Benjamin and I even saw it early on in our relationship, and again that’s how I perceived the film.

Well, as a bonafide dog parent, I saw this movie very differently. Sitting next to a mountain of tissues, sobbing deeply with Bluebear tucked up next to me, snoozing soundly with her chin on my knee. After the movie ended, Benjamin and I were like-NEVER AGAIN! Never again will I let Marley and Me trick me into feeling more than need be. It was not the best complimentary flavour to my deepening winter blues.

To clarify-I’m functioning as a living, breathing human; but I’m not bursting with any kind of citrusy creative zest. After three weeks of  summertime in New Zealand, coming back to a Canadian January was always going to be a challenge. Facing some genuine unpleasantness upon my return made the transition back to reality all the harder.  Nothing takes the warmth of a post-holiday glow like bad news or unwelcomed change. Emotionally I’m somewhere between abandoned diva Jennifer Hudson in Dream Girls

…with a solid helping of angst ridden of Winona Ryder in Reality Bites when she gets fired from her job, spends all that money on the psychic hotline, loves and loses greasy ole Ethan Hawke and everything in between.

With nothing to do, she sloths about her house, sinking deeper and deeper into her doldrums.

Reality Bites :

It’s the worst feeling in the world, that stifling Bell Jar feeling, anxiety like walls closing in on you.  It’s as though you wish you could step outside of yourself to have a break from your own thoughts. It’s maddening to be sick of your own company. When you feel that low, it’s hard to motivate yourself.  How is it that when we feel depressed we turn away from the things that would ultimately make us feel better?  We resist socializing, exercise, expression. All becomes a vicious little ferris wheel of a sad little life. It’s an uphill battle to straight up Liz Taylor yourself back to the front lines.

If I had to describe my recent mood with one word, I’d just release a shrug and a sigh. Maybe a sour milk scented scrunched up face for emphasis.

Don’t worry. This is not a cry for help. Artistically speaking this is the equivalent of Britney Spears ‘Lucky’.

…or a very special episode of Blossom.

No shit. Alf is in heaven? That’s a huge relief. That’s one less thing to worry about.  My very special episode would be about the blues and the blahs. Some big time sads. Like a large American soda from a movie theatre sized cup of sadness. Nobody needs that much of anything. But seriously, can we discuss ‘Lucky’ for a quick sec? That was probably a bad example–that has “Cry for Help” written all over it–it should have been called Preface to a Shaved Head.

I can certifiably say that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’ve spoken with a number of women that are slogging through life as if through very sticky mud. It’s a bland time all around. Blame it on January, it’s such an unpleasant month. I mean, January 1st, sure, it’s a new year, a new day, it’s still a shiny new toy; that fresh start, that clean slate. With a head full of resolutions, and a belly full of eggs benedict, possibly still drunk from last night, it’s easy to beam with a renewed sense of enthusiasm.

And then…actually…no, you don’t have this. What you have is tighter jeans from all that champagne and hollandaise. That glow of Christmas has faded; no more parties, no more leftovers…the anticipation of wrapped presents under the tree is now that toy you step on when coming around the corner.You have to go back to work, and just wander around the office like you’ve just been stung by a tranquillizer dart. You have the energy level of Han Solo immediately after being thawed out in Jabba the Hut’s chamber.

You just need to lay down…really wherever is fine.

Life is just better on holiday; I am simply a better person on a foreign beach with the sun on my face. Aren’t we all? In our daily lives we are trudging Clydesdales, on holidays we are majestic unicorns. That’s just science.  Upon my return, and in the weeks that followed, I felt like a jet lagged goldfish in extremely cloudy water, trying to do a complicated algebra exam in Latin.

It’s like every day is Blue Monday, where weather/debt/monthly salary/ time since Christmas/ time since failing our new year’s resolutions/low motivational levels all meet at the intersection of one’s existence and then crash into each other in one fiery explosion.

Where do you go from there? How do you get out from under the clouds, count your blessings and pick that chin up?  How can I be more like Taylor Swift and shake-shake it off? You feel bad for feeling bad, feel guilt for a first-world state of depression.  Roof over my head, food to eat, people to love, rights and freedoms, what more do you need? Why do I feel so sad? Now mid-to late February, the blues are just now starting to lift. At the moment, I’m taking things one day at a time. Setting teeny tiny goals that benefit my health and happiness. Admitting my sadness, getting some sleep, drinking more water, hugging my husband, cuddling my dog, writing, talking, listening, walking. Laughing whenever possible. Living life like Liz Taylor, but without all the husbands and diamonds. Knocking over the bell jar and gulping fresh air as if my life depends on it…because it does.

 Images Courtesy of Google etc.

 

Nobody’s Mother, Nobody’s Aunt.

This has not been my finest collection of hours. My mood is dark, feeling very much between a pre-menstrual pre-teen and menopausal matron. Down and out and wanting to crawl under the covers. John Lennon is present in the news, its the 35th anniversary of his assassination. Gun statistics, Global Warming, Anti-Muslim propaganda, Donald Trump. It all feels so bleak. I’m scattered, like my brain in a twister and my thoughts are all the random items picked up and swirling around. My sense of humor is a faint heartbeat.

Despite the unshakable funk, I press on with the work day.  I pass one of the teachers walking a small group of boys to the bathroom. One little boy, blonde bowl hair cut and big smile asks me: “Who’s Mother are you?”. “Me? I’m nobody’s Mother” I said, “But I have a puppy, does that make me her Mother?. Um. No. Not in World According to Bowl-Cut. Ask a three year old a serious question, and you get a serious answer. I’m tired, grumpy, and I’m nobody’s mother.

Driving in the afternoon, the thought of that child overlapped into a memory of my friend Monica and this t-shirt I used to own. Well, I actually had it made after catching a random episode of The Simpsons, it was inspired by gnarly spinster aunts Patty and Selma.

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One of them was wearing a t-shirt that said “Sexy Aunt”, I thought it was rather funny.  Not an indication of my now enduring elegance and style, I bought a black baseball style shirt with pink sleeves that had glittery rock n’ roll lettering, that in fact made “Sexy Aunt” look like “Sexy Avnt”. No matter.  My brother was a father, and I was young and ironic, surely that justified the purchase.

“You’re nobody’s aunt”, Monica spits out the words at the sight of my t-shirt. “Yes I am”, I scoff…” What a thing to say..Nobody’s aunt. “Who?” her face is contorted in disbelief. “Who are you an aunt to?” “My older brother has a kid”, I retort. “Oh”, she lowers her guard. “You never told me that”.

It was quite possibly the only thing I hadn’t told her. In the time spent as neighbours and friends in a little building on the corner of West Seymour Street, smoking cigarettes and playing records in her eclectic little top floor apartment, we hammered out a lot of issues.

I lived downstairs. I met her in the laundry room. She said she needed a roommate, she used the expression ‘cheap like borscht’. I liked her immediately. I brought her cupcakes after our initial meeting; she in turn called me ‘Cupcake’.

The first time I came to her apartment was not by her invitation. Her dreamy new roommate saw me reading outside on the little stoop and invited me upstairs for a glass of wine. Because I was a twenty-something nitwit who willingly paid for a t-shirt that said “Sexy Aunt”, a glass of wine upstairs with Mr Tall, Dark Stranger sounded perfectly reasonable.  He had just moved in, and there was boxes stacked in his room, with a mattress on the floor. Nowhere to sit, we moved into the living room, where Monica was sitting on the sofa. Monica’s shelves were stacked with well worn books, she had a glorious music collection; she owned Jeff Buckley’s Grace–which is a completely unifying and friendship inducing album.

The space had a dusty, disorganized bohemian vibe: funky thrift store art, old photographs, punctuated by little piles of papers, costumes, clothing.   Her bathroom was teeming with Jesus imagery. Technically, the bathroom’s theme was “JC”, there was some Jackie Collins book, and there a picture of Johnny Cash right at eye-line when sitting on the toilet. Aggressively flipping the middle finger. Mostly, it was about Jesus and The Last Supper.

Once, while walking home, we spotted this very old and fragile woman lugging home two four-liter jugs of milk. Monica called out to her, and asked if she needed help. The woman brightened up immediately and thrust the jugs at us with new found super human strength “Sure!”. Monica thought that was funny, but worried for that trusting old lady, who let us into her apartment without hesitation. She offered us a milkshake, talked about Mussolini funded summer camps in Italy,  prattled non-stop as she puttered about busily among all her own piles. Monica spotted a picture of The Last Supper. It was perfectly hideous and wrapped in a ornate, ten pound gold frame.

Monica passed along her compliments. “Take it!”, she flapped her hand dismissively. Monica hesitated and the woman insisted “Take it, I’m not taking it with me when I go….” and after an uncomfortable amount of time….”to Italy”. Monica and I locked eyes from the across the cluttered room. Mouths twisting up into smiles. How did we even get here? Within the confines of that friendship, I found myself in so many strange rooms with her and random people. She would talk to absolutely anyone, get secrets out of strangers. As we left the old lady’s apartment, Monica thanked her, but cautioned her from being too friendly with strangers. Poor thing living all alone.

Who were we to talk? I lived alone, and after her roommate left, so did she. We became family. I visited her daily. She made tea out of an orchid tea pot where the spout looked like a vagina. Her kitchen was filled with oddities. Sushi earrings, random plastic fruit in a buster wicker basket.  Her sense of humor was present in all that she did.

We once got an unstoppable case of the giggles at a neighbour’s funeral. Bad weather and a broken vehicle held us up, and we wound up leaping out of a cab, and sprinting into the chapel soaking wet from the rain. Such a violent shift of emotion, you’re pissed off that you can’t get there, and then suddenly you’re there and it’s a funeral. As we settled in, like drowned rats dressed in black, I leaned in and cracked some remark to Monica. Holding hands in the back row, our faces were straining from forceful laughter that wanted to burst out of our mouths. Church giggles are one thing, but funeral giggles are only acceptable if you’re Mary Tyler Moore.

Cherie lived down the hall from me; she looked like a later years Karen Carpenter, dressed in velour bathrobes, and wore make up but her short hair was always rumpled. She never left the house. She would send her husband round to bring me expired food from Liquidation World. Grant had a pot belly and a fanny pack, harboured this little black and crooked mustache above his top lip. He said “alrighty”, and stared at you a little too long. Her death wasn’t a huge surprise. She was made of brittle glass and blue eye shadow; her ashes were placed in an urn with a majestic wolf on it. The thought of Grant selecting the best urn for his fragile lady, broke my heart.

After the funeral, over milky mugs of coffee, Monica retold the story of the time she inadvertently stole an ambulance from Cherie. Monica had gone out to help assist her, but then had a seizure herself and they took her instead of Cherie. Even though Cherie was now in a majestic wolf urn, we howled with laughter. When the giggles subsided, we sobbed our hearts out.

Monica taught me about grief. How to live with loss, wear that itchy wool  until it’s a second skin.  The memories that hurt most, that weight you carry, it’s the lines on your face, the grey in your hair, it’s in absolutely everything you do whether you know it or not.

She had mementos from the past, dead people’s possessions. She once referenced a shirt she wore into oblivion, and then cut it up and turned it into wash rags. I was quietly horrified. Wouldn’t you just save the shirt? Tuck it away and look at it whenever? Her reasoning was that it took up space, on a number of levels. Let it dissolve in your daily life. I had that thought when Bluebear stared to pick at a pair mittens that a long-lost friend had given me. Sure, I could save them and take them with me everywhere, but never wear them, or I could let my dog unravel the colorful pattern joyously. As if the material and the memory regenerate into new and possibly practical forms, and it becomes a new style of letting go.

Like Cherie, Monica’s death was neither expected nor was it unexpected. Monica would have been the first to tell you she wouldn’t be pulling silver-haired hi-jinx at the retirement home. I think she knew her time was short and she acted accordingly. She lavished in the small pleasures. She was reckless, and infuriating and apologetically slow-moving. She told extremely long stories, with even longer subplots. She would fake injures and cause public spectacles. Sometimes it was hilarious, sometimes it was endearing. Sometimes you just wanted to run some bloody errands quickly and efficiently.  As the years went by, I was consistently bothered by her health; I wished she took better care of herself. I wished I was better equipped to take care of her. At the time, I could hardly take care of myself.

On the day of her passing, I popped by the box office where she worked, where I sat with her many times. She wasn’t at work, and I didn’t wonder why. She was unwell a lot. Then, after the show it was announced that she was gone. I wanted to believe there was a way to bring her back.

In the middle of my no-good bad day, one of Monica’s oldest and best friends posted something on social media about Grand Marnier to celebrate her birthday. That’s what Oprah refers to as an “Ah-ha Moment”. That explains a lot–the haunted undercurrent of my sour mood. Both of us being December babies, it’s strange that her birthday slipped my mind. I don’t keep track of dates well–and really, I think of her every single day anyway…so it was not uncommon for a memory of her to overlap with my random everyday nonsense as if it were a reflex. “I’m nobody’s Mother/ You’re nobody’s Aunt” is all a part of the constellation of my daily recollections.  In every moment is another moment.  And then–nearly eight years after her sudden death, it’s still as if it just happened, and I’m still that kid being told about it in a room full of people.

She would have been 51.  I would give anything for a warm drink in her cluttered kitchen, one of her famous hugs where she gave you an extra long squeeze just before she let you go. I cried all way home, big fat tears free falling down my cheeks. Wearing the familiar feelings like a well-worn sweater: missing her, wishing I could have saved her, and wondering if there is still a way to bring her back.

Images Courtesy of Google Images etc.

Lights Out.

Winter is starting to creep in.  It’s pitch black by four pm, and the rest of the day is grey. No snow yet as of Saturday morning, but you just know that nasty bitch is coming for you.

Chilly morning spent in a quiet dark house. Radio off; tiptoeing in the kitchen, making coffee. It’s still quite early, and the odds are that Benjamin will snooze for at least two more hours. A sleeping husband, a hot coffee, a warm blanket, and a mellow dog content to nestle beside me on of the sofa. Pretty delicious combination if you ask me.

My social media newsfeeds are filled with Paris: reports, opinions, comments and loads of political propaganda. The death and injury toll grew overnight. My heart feels unbearably heavy…not just for Paris but for the state of the world. School shootings, online bullying, rape culture, extreme poverty, the threat of terrorism, actual terrorism, the unreliability of the media. The Kardashians. Global warming.  It’s all so terrifying. It’s like the planet is a pressure cooker on roller skates trying to cross a tight rope over a pit of wildly infectious vampire zombies. The odds are just not looking good as to whether it can get across safely.

It makes me sad. It makes me feel helpless. Every news story you hear about any violence is depressing, but the City of Light is especially upsetting. I’ve never been to Paris, and I’m quite keen to go.  It’s been high on my list for so long, it just hasn’t happened yet. Waiting for the right time to include it in an epic European adventure. Just me, the Bear, three to six weeks, two back packs and a couple of train passes.   Benjamin and I have gone on many adventures in the last 18 months–New York, Mexico, Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Bend and Vancouver–with a trip to New Zealand planned for Christmas. I keep envisioning that Europe would be up next up for us. We take on extra projects, work weekends, and are always striving to get closer to the goal of seeing more of the world. It’s an insurmountable project and the investment has little value in regards to a mortgage or mutual funds. Sometimes travel is the only thing that matters, sometimes you wonder what it’s all for.  Still, there’s no place I’d rather be than to my next destination.

I think about the state of the world and the age of my biological clock and it all feels like one hell of a tight time line. Wondering how my time is best spent. Sure, I could pop out a wee one and then in twenty years go see what’s left of the world. That’s quite the gamble. There’s also the issue of what we leave behind for said offspring. Between all the worlds ailments…there’s not much more that can be said or done.

I am my truest self on the road. I am alive in a new place; all I have to do is eat and explore, take pictures and breathe.  When Benjamin and I were first married and heading off to Australia, we planned for a few weeks on the South Island. We would start with Christchurch and finish with a road trip. Then an earthquake happened. It was like the clocks had all stopped. The tremors forced a sudden self-governed state. Everyone evacuated, dogs loose on the streets, traffic at a stand still. Everyone trying to move forward.

It was easy as catching a Tuesday matinee on a rainy morning. Getting comfortable in your seat. Getting lost in a story. We had been exceptionally happy in Christchurch. Our trip was so pleasant. We had had a lot of immigration/visa related stress, and that had come to the end. I remember sitting on a bench outside of the Cathedral. There was a marketplace set up, and people milling about. Benjamin is buying a hat. I’m sipping on a latte, watching the passersby and catching short snippets of strange conversations.  An accordionist is on the church steps, playing music from Amelie. The whole thing was very Kiwi-Parisian. It was one of those rare moments in life when you feel feather light. No pain, no fear, nothing to avoid, no schedules, no agendas, no worries. To me, that’s pure bliss, the high of every holiday; to be a stranger in a foreign place.

Suddenly. Suddenly, we’re running though a forest, splashing through dirty water. Being pulled along by your wild eyed husband.

Hurry up.

Move faster.

Please.

Leaving the car behind and rushing across a broken bridge. This mass exodus of stunned survivors. Trying to get home. Trying to get to their people. Calls weren’t going through, and there was no way to know how anyone was. The crack in the radio announcer’s voice when he tried to get a message to his wife. They played a lot of happy songs. Bob Marley and whatnot. I wonder if there is pre-recorded music for states of emergency. Nothing sad or sentimental. Pleasant, respectfully mellow–maintaining positivity, but not so excitable that you’d need to break out the ABBA.

It’s the apocalypse after all, not Mardi Gras.

People can survive, cope, recover…it’s amazing really, the resiliency that forms when there is a sense of purpose. Supporting your neighbour, establishing a game plan, pooling resources, tending to children, collecting water, preparing food, developing a small community to weather the storm.  Treading water until things settle, or until the shock wears off and everything becomes a new kind of normal.

Obviously, a terrorist attack and a natural disaster aren’t from the same source. Terrorism is hateful, violent deliberate action–a blood spattered spectacle to capture attention and assert authority. A natural disaster is a brute force in itself, and there are no means to reason with it. Its intentions are not cruel though-that’s the only difference.  The consistent thread is how the worst of circumstances can bring out the best in people, the abundance of generosity. Of course, it also brings out the worst–but I’m trying to keep things borderline ABBA here.

The individuals who orchestrate violent acts, or those who abuse the circumstances of natural disasters (the looters, the thieves who scoured the news for names of the dead and pillaged abandoned houses) are without an explanation that I can provide. How they justify their actions to themselves is beyond comprehension. That’s not what we should focus on anyway. I think about the little boy standing on the sidewalk with a working garden hose, a bar of soap and one towel, offering an opportunity to wash your hands and face. People with access to power setting up movie nights and charging stations. Opening up their homes to those who were without. Humanity is a mixed bag. Is it naïve to think that people are more the spare towel and soap kind over the gun toting extremist kind?  I want to believe in kindness, in fairness, in forgiveness. I want to believe that Paris is exactly how Audrey Hepburn left it.

This attack exposes my selfish desperation to travel the world in its entirety, and the deep-seeded fear that I will never see the destinations I have yearned for since my youth. That the planet is spiralling out of control, and there is nothing I can do to stop it. It makes me weep alone in the darkness of my living room.

The sleeping husband and an obligation free Saturday was a tender mercy; I decided to soothe my blues with a little cinematic therapy.

Amelie is the obvious choice. It’s a sweet and melancholic love story that celebrates the small pleasures in life. It is also a perfect postcard version of Paris.

Amelie is lost and lonely; she finds her purpose in helping others…not necessarily in a practical way, but by appealing to their own secret small pleasures. She discovers this passion through a strange turn of events: hearing the news of Princess Diana’s fatal car accident in Paris causes her to drop her perfume lid, which led to the discovery of a box of childhood trinkets. She shuts off the news and focuses on returning the box to it’s rightful owner. Yes, life can be futile, bleak, forbidding and unfair…but there is something to be said for tiny treasures. Joy is endless when you insert yourself in the lives of others to bring the thinnest shred of comfort.

Colorful and whimsical, sincere and quietly optimistic, Amelie is comfort food for the soul. As always, Paris looks divine, and the length of the movie usually feels like a little holiday. Today fat tears fall down my cheeks as I watched Amelie gallivant all over. Crying because I love that city; because I don’t know it and wish that I did. Crying because darkness engulfed the City of Light. Crying for fear of suddenly; afraid of losing what little control I actually have left.

Images Courtesy of Google, Ashcroft & the Fine People Behind the Internet

Bold & Beautiful

Boy oh boy, Joan Rivers. Dead at 81. This one really hurts my heart.  Following the suicide of Robin Williams, which was a proper tragedy….but this is a different kind of tragedy.  If life is a party, Williams quietly slipped out the back door. He made a choice to leave early.  Rivers, on the other hand was still holding court in front of the crowd, and hadn’t even finished her drink.  Award season is just getting started.  That seems like a cruel joke from the universe. Her red carpet commentary is the very best.  I no longer have the E channel, but when I lived in New Zealand, that channel was my North American touchstone, and Joan Rivers my acid-tongued fairy Godmother.  Feeling homesick, lonely or blue? For my money, it doesn’t get better than Fashion Police.  

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I loved her fearless, searing, ruthless cracks. That kind of ‘axe to the chest’ humor, a cutting, bone cracking blow. Like an unexpected medicine ball chucked at your belly, one that you just barely catch in time. And then she’ll hit you again and again until you die from laughter.

Rivers was speaking about her last book, Diary of a Mad Diva, where even this acid-tongued misogynist slashed a little too deeply for many people’s taste, causing a flurry of threatened lawsuits, including one from Kirsten Stewart, who was upset by Rivers’ allegations she had slept her way into her role in Snow White and the Huntsman.  “I can’t wait to get into a courtroom with her,” Rivers cackled. “I’m going to bring a Ken doll and I want her to show me on it just where she touched her director.”

This kills me.  You would have to be seriously uninterested in pleasing everybody to make these kinds of cracks.  I think it’s hilarious, but then again she’s not saying it about me.  Still, I’d like to think that Rivers could roast me and I’d still appreciate the crack.

“Everyone thinks Angelina Jolie was the first celebrity baby hoarder, but she wasn’t. Before Angelina there was Mia Farrow. Mia had an entire farm full of children. I think she got them at Costco.”

“Most babies are not actually attractive … (They’re) kind of like Renee Zellweger pushed up against a glass window.”

“I said Justin Bieber looked like a little lesbian – and I stand by it: he’s the daughter Cher wishes she’d had.”

“She’s such a disaster, they now call train wrecks Lindsay Lohans”.

Often crippled by the opinions of others, I do self-censor my wisecracks, especially in the blog.  I wouldn’t write something about a friend, but a celebrity crack is fair game…nobody, famous, important or influential reads anyway.  Only a select few know the true extent of my salty humor.  My friend Margaret, for example, is one who witnesses my comedic axe-wielding at it’s sharpest. The night of River’s death, Margaret came round for dinner, which led to getting a little tipsy, and watching Sex and the City 2.  Our particular friendship unifier is our love for the ‘good-bad movie’.  The film makers sure had the best of intentions, but the humor is buried deep within that intent.  SATC 2 is a glimmering jewel of this genre. It’s a ludicrous premise, the costumes are ridiculous, it’s sexist and wildly racist.

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Samantha is a horny wax statue in the baking sun. Charlotte, in her Ground Zero parenting moment, up to her ears in needy, attention seeking, crying, ugly children, foolishly tries to make a phone call to Carrie while icing cupcakes in a cream-colored Vintage Valentino.  What a fucking idiot. Thank God the bra-less nanny, came to restore order.  Then at the end of this nearly two-and-a-half hour masterpiece, the true conflict comes from Samantha’s arrest due to reckless, public sexual displays, the consequence being kicked out of their extravagant hotel. Before they head to the airport, Carrie–a professional woman in her forties– realizes that she lost her passport at a souq.  Here’s a question: WHY ARE YOU TAKING YOUR PASSPORT WITH YOU TO A MIDDLE EASTERN MARKET PLACE? WHY IS IT FLOPPING AROUND LOOSE INSIDE YOUR BAG? (insert obvious joke here). That’s the Superbowl of identification in the travel world.  That’s dumber than wearing vintage couture while baking at home. Is that tiny book and a slim bundle of spices so buxom that you need to remove them completely from your large bag to make room for a measly pair of shoes. And is the Call to Prayer so enchanting that you can’t do a quick glimpse over your shoulder to make sure you haven’t left anything behind? Of course, her blunder is all part of a bigger picture. It all leads to this:

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Once Carrie retrieves her passport, from the friendly vendor, more high-jinx ensues. Charlotte has a ‘forbidden experience’– is lured into a room with sweaty, swarthy men and their black market wares.  Samantha’s $10,000 Birkin bag being confused as an excellent knock off, and the bag being inevitably ripped open and as many condoms as dollars spent on the bag rains like confetti on New Year’s Eve.  Samantha screams obscenities, hurls said condoms at fist shaking men,  and grinds the air, replicating all the hot relations we’ve known her to have.  Now they are on the run from some a horde of conservative, Middle-Eastern types that are out for their blood.  Meanwhile, the big issue is that they are trying to catch a cab so they will not get bumped from first class.  That’s an actual line in the movie, said in the same tone as: “The Apocalypse is coming, we’re all going to die”.   Meanwhile, Carrie Bradshaw is a cocktail of shrewish wife and anorexic racehorse, who badgers to husband to be more socially adventurous. She’s been chasing him for a sold decade, and just when everything is comfortable and happy, she goes to shake the snow globe once again.  She runs into her hunky ex-fiance Aidan in Abu-Dhabi, then meets him for dinner in a dress that is like a black wash cloth on a giraffe, wearing more liquid liner than a teenaged goth girl. They ‘accidentally on purpose’ kiss under the stars and she then runs away, flailing about as if on fire. She then runs home to call Mr Big–who is at the office toiling away while she runs around the Middle East in feather boas, nine inch heels, and hats larger than the one Eliza Doolittle wore to the Ascot Opening in My Fair Lady.

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Don’t worry, Mr Big took her indiscretion like a champ. When Carrie gets back to New York, she paces the floor for hours, waiting for Big to come home.  He does, and in the most Hollywood of endings, buys her an obscenely large black diamond ring. What if she had slept with Aidan? What would she get then? A helicopter? A Ferrari? A 50-foot yacht called the “SS Horseface?” Women everywhere are cheating on their husbands and saying in divorce court “Your Honor, I just don’t get it–when Carrie did it she got a diamond, when all I did it, all I got was the boot”.   This may sound horrible, but it’s actually time well spent, the film is fun, frothy, silly, and getting drunk and ripping this film to shreds, is just cream on the cake.  Making acidic, occasionally vicious attacks on costumes and characters and cackling wildly, was a wonderful way to honor Joan Rivers, who was not far from my mind that night.  I’ve been a fan of Rivers since she got fired alongside Miss Piggy in the classic film Muppets take Manhattan.

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When I first came back to British Columbia and had more time on my hands, I had  developed quite the routine with my friend Trish the Dish: my coming over on Friday, usually after my noon yoga class.  Just us girls, Trish, myself, and her lovely baby Melody.  Trish would often take a shower, or take a minute to herself while I sat on the couch and watch The Bold & The Beautiful with her baby. I don’t know how good babies are at deciphering irony, but Melody got an earful of humorous soap opera commentary.  I hope she wasn’t just laying there in my lap, in her little jammies, taking me seriously, and cataloging the information for later use.  “Don’t worry mom, you don’t have to explain men to me…boozy old Aunt Alicia told me all about them a long time ago”.

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One afternoon after class, I came up the stairs and saw a vintage Joan Rivers comedy album on the kitchen table.

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I’m exclaiming my enthusiasm for such an awesome relic, when I notice the envelope  with my name on it.  (Well, it actually says “Hippy”, a nickname from our younger days, along the same era where she was christened Trish “the Dish”).  A present? For me? Fabulous!  When she was pregnant, I had given her this book, to help her with the difficult days.

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And then I came home and wrote this blog, in honour of Trish the Dish, and to the advice I may someday give to her daughter…for which I was apologizing for in advance.  It was also in honor of the now late Joan Rivers, who at the time was “80 years old, fearless, bitchy as hell and she’s got a mouth on her like you wouldn’t believe”.  On a late Sunday morning her funeral already passed on East-Coast time, I pull out the record–which has  rested along a ledge in my office, since the day I brought it home, next to a Joni Mitchell album, and other strange knickknacks.  I listened to it in the kitchen, drinking coffee and cutting vegetables, periodically buckling over with laughter, and giggling until my eyes watered. The album was produced in 1983, so when she says that Bo Derek is so stupid that “studied for her pap test”, it’s a little dated, but the punch line still stands up.  It’s all in her delivery.  She talks about how she used to be “happy” in her marriage and how now she is just “happy”. The tone of her voice shifts so perfectly, it’s simply incredible–this one word in this particular tone paints a perfect picture of a marriage at a particular point in time.    Like a bitchy machine gun, she targets beauty, marriage, childbirth, money, class, death.  There is such intelligence behind the barbs: “Every joke I make, no matter how tasteless, is there to draw attention to something I really care about.” Don’t let that foul mouth fool you, Joan Rivers was a brilliant businesswoman, a woman who suffered many hardships and setbacks, but whom always fought back with a wisecrack on the tip of her tongue.

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“The ideal beauty is a fugitive that is never found”.

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“There is not one female comic who was beautiful as a little girl”.

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“I have become my own version of an optimist. If I can’t make it through one door, I’ll go through another door — or I’ll make a door. Something terrific will come no matter how dark the present”.

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“I was smart enough to go through any door that opened”.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

“Don’t tell your kids you had an easy birth or they won’t respect you.  For years I used to wake up my daughter and say, “Melissa you ripped me to shreds.  Now go back to sleep”.

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“People say that money is not the key to happiness, but I always figured if you have enough money, you can have a key made.”

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“I succeeded by saying what everyone else is thinking.”

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“There are many self-help books by Ph.D.s, but I hold a different degree: an I.B.T.I.A.—I’ve Been Through It All. This degree comes not on parchment but gauze, and it entitles me to tell you that there is a way to get through any misfortune.”

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 …

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“Look, Winston Churchill once said making someone laugh is like giving them a little holiday. What’s wrong with that? And if the jokes I make call attention to things that aren’t right in the world, that’s why I do it.”

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I heard that quote for the first time while listening to the CBC. That thought choked me up a little, laughter being a little vacation. That at the heart of her comedic style, to spew venom in every direction, to brandish a hammer, swinging indiscriminately, was to deliver surprisingly soft blows.

Good Night Joan Rivers. Thank you for a million mini holidays.

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All Images Courtesy of Google

Faint of Heart

Another morning spent not preparing for pressing projects, and instead watching “Inside the Actor’s Studio” with James Gandolfini. Poor guy.  Such an untimely passing in Rome at just 51.  As you can imagine, the violence levels of his breadth of film and television work has deterred me from really having perspective on his talent.  But after sitting with him and James Lipton, I can appreciate his process.  “The Sopranos” is what he will be remembered for, alongside a variety of ‘tough-guy’ supporting roles in movies like “The Mexican” and “True Romance”.

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“The Sopranos” is just one of those shows that I truly believe you when you say it’s excellent, but I’m probably not going to be able to hack it.  I have such an extremely low tolerance for violence, and this show really seemed to have the market cornered on bloodshed.  Of course, being a faithful cinephile, I’m aware of the character dynamics, the general premise, and the impact of the program on popular culture.  My friend Jenna saw the series through, and one morning, too hung-over to go anywhere, I watched a few episodes, including “Employee of the Month”, when Dr Melfi is brutally raped in the stairwell of a parking garage.  This was probably not the greatest introduction to the show, being sick and sleepless after a big night out.  Otherwise, I’ve caught a few episodes and scenes here and there, but never braved the whole series.

Movies_Films_The_Sopranos-wallpaper After the earthquakes in Christchurch, my mother-in-law faced many sleepless nights.  She remedied her insomnia with the entire series, which I found so peculiar.  The show’s violent intensity would surely counteract with an already present stress level.  Personally I’d have taken all ten seasons of “Friends” over “The Sopranos”, (look at them splashing around in that fountain, and that Ross is such a hoot.  But she said that the program was so well-made, well written, that she was engrossed in the story, which took her far from the shaky ground she walked on.  And a program like “Friends” doesn’t have that kind of transformative power.

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Don’t you just want to know what’s happening in this picture?  I’ve always felt such a reluctant interest in this series.  The acting and writing is meant to be excellent.  And I’ve read about the show over the years.  I’d happily read the scripts, but then you’d miss out on the performances.  And yes, it is just ‘make-believe’, nobody actually dismembers bodies, fires shots on a whim or I don’t know..beats a pregnant woman to death, but great lengths are taken to ensure it’s authenticity, and that’s just not my jam.

the-sopranos-2_7524Nevertheless, I feel for the loss of Gandolfini.  I highly recommend watching “Inside the Actors Studio”, he was humble, gentle and vulnerable.  He came from a working class family, and sought to bring dignity to blue collar characters.  He also touches on the emotional impact of playing those violent characters, especially when the violence was directed towards women.  He references episodes like “University”, where a stripper is raped, and a pregnant woman is beaten to death with a metal railing–in a 22 second long scene–which would feel like a slim slice of eternity, having to watch that.  The IMDB parent guide itemizes the violence and profanity, and concludes: “The violence against women in this episode is frequent and intense. Not for the faint hearted”.  That’s me, faint of heart.  That’s the kind of thing you’d make me watch if you were trying to punish me.  But it sounded like Gandolfini struggled with those portrayals, that they are not easy things to enact, or to watch.  But it’s a crucial part of this narrative–that it’s meant to be set as an example of how far on the spectrum these people can go.  That’s their reality.  But imagine having to play that?  Gandolfini spoke about the lengths he went to get to that place of anger to play those scenes convincingly: excessive amounts of coffee,  banging his head into a wall, forgoing sleep, a sharp rock in a shoe.  That is a lot of energy being given to a character, a character that is in a sense immortal. But the ramifications of that kind of work takes a toll on the mortal vessel, and sometimes this big heart, so full of other people’s struggles, burdens and emotions, can’t tick another second, and just gives out from holding on to too much.

the-sopranos-wallpaper      All Images Courtesy of Google

You’re Not Going to Do a Feminist Reading of “Family Guy” Are You?

If you’ll forgive me, I want to take a more serious tone with today’s blog—like on those very special episodes of “Blossom” or “Full House”. Or when someone speaks in the middle of a song—and you know they mean business when they just start talking when you know they should be singing.  This topic has pressed on my mind as of late, and though I tried to think of lighter alternatives, this is what I’m exploring today.  Maybe you thought you were gearing up for some wacky misadventures with Blossom and Six in their spunky hats, with Joey and all his “Whoa’s”, but just roll with it, maybe we could all learn something together as a family.  I could even try to rustle up some of that touching mid-nineties sitcom ‘special moment’ music if you’d like.   

In this past last week Ben and I have been watching rather large doses of “Family Guy“.  This show is very smart, clever and laugh-out-loud funny; then at least once an episode it will chuck you a dead baby.  More specifically, this show is rife with some serious rape jokes.  And it’s not just a passing remark—there are women being attacked or violated and whole jokes are structured around that image. Now, I am a very bawdy lady and I’m all for black humour.  I love the impact of an offensive joke; it’s like a punch to the gut or an axe to the chest.  Hey, I’ve even been known to use the “c-word” when it suits (and I’m not talking ‘cockle-shells’ people…it’s the one that rhymes with ‘bunt’.  So—despite Louis C.K’s remark that feminism and comedy are ‘natural enemies’, I feel like I can objectively appreciate a disturbing quip, even if I don’t find it funny.  And I like Seth MacFarlane—I follow him on Twitter, I gave my father “Ted” for Christmas, I watch “Family Guy”—I even laughed when he hosted the Oscars.  But seriously, what is with all the rape jokes?  MacFarlane is by no means alone, “30 Rock” made such jokes, and I trust Tina Fey implicitly.  And there seems to be a general rise in rape jokes throughout the sitcom realm.  But to what end are these jokes pursuing? I understand that in comedy, the worst time the character is having, the better time the viewer is having…but how bad a time do you want your character to be having?In one “Family Guy” episode, they make a reference to Aquaman being a useless superhero, and to prove this, they have him standing in the ocean, helpless to protect a woman being raped on dry land.  And the scene went on forever, like MacFarlane really wanted that image to soak in.  Did she need to be raped? Couldn’t someone just try to steal her purse?  Is it funnier because she’s being assaulted? 

I don’t know why I feel reluctant to throw this subject into the ring.  But if you explore the internet enough, there is endless material on “Family Guy”.  Oh my goodness is there a bursting pocket of humanity that wants to see MacFarlane’s head on a swivel.  There are petitions and open letters, people who want the show cancelled or censored, feminists who vilify the show, feminists who reluctantly admit that it makes them laugh.  There is also a ton of information on humour in rape culture, and whether one breeds the other.  Which brings up a serious question: are we in a rape culture? Is this a definable era?  Bronze to Flapper, WW II to Y2K, then rape culture? I mean, sexual violence has always been a fact, that’s a pretty common thread across the span of time.  But we haven’t always been laughing about it…at least I hope the ancient Egyptians weren’t making rape jokes in hieroglyphics.   The term ‘rape culture’ is being utilized more in the social media era; especially with the recent focus on the young girls who’s undoing was precipitated by the toxic mix of sexual violence and the internet.  And this is not what this blog is about—god, nothing that heavy.   The question I am posing is: can a rape joke be funny, when rape is not funny? 

One recent newspaper article blamed “Family Guy” for those athletes molesting and photographing that drunk girl in the United States (oh yes, those guys, that one time…I know, it’s rampant, but what can I tell you, it’s rape culture!).  According to this writer, this 22 minute, animated comedy has raised a generation of rapists.  Whoa, don’t give MacFarlane that much power. MacFarlane states in an interview that we are meant to laugh at the ignorance of the joker or attacker, which is not the same thing as condoning it. So when Peter Griffin makes a searing remark about rape or Quagmire rapes Marge Simpson, you are meant to laugh ironically, not conclude that unlawful penetration is A-OK.  But in the same breath, he says his main demographic are males, 18-34.  Which is not always the most discerning or ironically robust of all the statistical groups.  But that one article was on top of a very large pile of attacks that state that this kind of comedy is dangerous: that by laughing at the attack makes it easier to be an attacker.  But then…by that end would watching “Dexter” make you a vicious, but wholly sympathetic serial killer (is that what that shows about? I’m going on IMDB for this one).  There has to be more viewer responsibility—I think to blame a television program for a rapist’s action is ludicrous.  (There is so much more going on there than a few cracks on a cartoon).  You know, for me, it’s that the rape jokes are a serious buzz kill. I’m not saying it has to be cut out of the humour palette entirely. But I can wholeheartedly affirm that it is not my personal cup o’ tea.     

 

What do you think of these kind of jokes? Is there a place for rape in comedy?    I really welcome your thoughts.

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