Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Weekend At the Movies

The Great Gatsby occupies a place on my Top 10 List of All-Time Great Novels. The number assignment changes according to an assortment of variables. For example, if I am feeling particularly frustrated with the indefatigable dominance of patriarchal ideology, Gatsby and another favorite, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, suffer the consequences. While my rebellious streak can never condemn them as other than brilliant works of literature, the books' abhorrent depictions of female silliness and vapidity (not, to be forthright, that the male protagonists fare much better), tend to grate with more intensity during these moods.

And so it was that I suspended a healthy dose of skepticism and nurtured some genuine excitement over the release of Baz Luhrmann's take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic. Luhrmann, director of such favorites as Romeo and Juliet (starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio) and Moulin Rouge (Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor), is known for dazzling visual spectacles and over the top musical numbers. Gatsby, a cautionary tale of fame, delusion and excess, seemed ripe for the Aussie maestro's cinematic touch.

I did some investigating and discovered that the local movie palace just two and a half blocks from my apartment building, small, affordable and boasting a full bar (you really haven't lived until you've seen the epic Lincoln on the big screen while piss drunk), had gussied itself up with 3-D technology. But while I took a look at the show times for the day, working up an impassioned plea for companionship to deliver to my partner JC, my eyes fixated in horror. Just under the listings for Gatsby, I saw it: Star Trek Into Darkness. Shit.

JC is a man of science: an avowed atheist, purveyor of logic and the man who bored me to tears just last night with exclamations of wonder over a formula for predicting the likelihood of random molecules generating life. We've both got the left side of the brain working (Hey! Creative types like logic too!), but I prefer to wallow in the intuitive, thoughtful, subjective realms in general. But as I mentioned, I tend my left side too and I suddenly knew with absolute certainty that there was no way I could talk my man into visiting the Jazz Age without a quid pro quo. I would need to travel to space: the final frontier.

A deal was struck and we did Star Trek Saturday evening, the legend of Jay Gatsby on Sunday. Here's the result for which I wasn't prepared. I really, really liked Into Darkness. I had made a diet-busting selection of giant popcorn, Raisenets and a trough of fountain Cherry Coke before we settled into our seats. The idea was that if the film bored me, the food coma would carry me through the credits. But the backup plan proved unnecessary: solid dialogue and character development with some really cool visuals in service of a good story. Not much more I could have asked. Also, I like this incarnation of sexy, struggling with his humanity Spock. Yum.

The same, depressingly, could not be said of the much-anticipated Gatsby. There was, by comparison, a curious lack of humanity. Like the titular character himself, the film was all glitz and no substance. I was intrigued by the Roaring 20s meets Hip-Hop soundtrack, the screen presence of Leo and the amazingly youthful face of Tobey McGuire, but all other elements were either too much or not enough. Too much party, too lifeless a Daisy, too much delusion and ennui (on the part of the filmmaker), not enough fidelity to the original narrative or respect for the unspoken nuance.

And so I learned an important lesson about presumption during this weekend at the movies: don't judge the prospective validity of art by source material prejudices. I would read The Great Gatsby in Pig Latin a hundred times over before I'd touch a science fiction tome. But literature and film are two different mediums, and after four failed attempts from big Hollywood heavyweights, maybe it's time to leave the cautionary tale of Jay Gatsby to print.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I Don't: Unmarried, Ignorant Bliss

As many know, by the age of 33, I was a two-time loser at matrimony. The second divorce was particularly shattering and in the fallout, I sort of arrived at the conclusion that I wasn't entirely sure why I'd said "I do" in the first place (or second). To be certain, love was the motivation in both cases, but I'm not much for orthodoxy. I never looked at marriage in the more historically traditional sense - a strategic alliance of families, the consolidation or gain of wealth and status.

I did not require a legal union to provide me social cover or legitimize my life choices, though I failed to understand this at the time(s). Neither failed relationship produced a child, perhaps one of the few decisions rendered with foresight. For all I can figure, and the reasoning feels as weak in the present as I always sensed somewhere that it was in the past, I married for love because well, I didn't know any other way. It's what you were supposed to do according to the WASPy values with which I'd been raised. The fact that these values had borne themselves out time and again to be nefarious and illusory didn't quite register for a young woman of age 23, and 29, searching for acceptance and legitimacy.

After the ink dried on the second set of divorce papers, I vowed to hang up my wedding dress (pleather skirt and sari, in practice) for good. I'm not bitter. For those who seem to know what to do with it, the institution of marriage is a powerful and wonderful phenomenon. What could be bigger than standing in front of a crowd swearing lifelong allegiance to a mate, to feel that level of confidence in oneself and another? But for a woman with whom permanence was always more of an ideal than a reality, starting with derelict, absent parentage, I've found myself far more comfortable with transitory commitments. At the age of 34, I've reinvented myself nearly as many times as Madonna. Though a more definite idea of who I am has begun to coalesce in the last couple of years, I can't expect a binding commitment from another when I have yet to bestow one on myself.

None of this means I have shut myself out from the opportunity to attach to someone and grow with them. That's precisely what I am doing with JC. I have thrown out the faulty road maps and guide books. There's no timeline or real plan. The controlling, information gluttonous aspects of my personality were initially uncomfortable without an answer to the question: "Where is this going?" For the first time, I've decided to participate in the journey, enjoy it rather than fast forward to the conclusion. Because I've trudged on with the nagging realization that things will not end happily in the past and where did that leave me other than exhausted? If this show is a tragedy, I'll find out at the end like everyone else. The mutual love and friendship are there. That's all I need to know today.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Keep Your Thongs & Heels

During the summer of 2010, I suffered a stress fracture on the underside of my right foot, the product of overzealous running in poorly padded shoes. The break took over a year to heal completely and as I rehabbed, a metamorphosis that began in my late 20s completed its cycle. Never a fan of sky-high, welt-producing footwear to begin, a full-on conversion to sensible shoes became the new paradigm. If the shoe wasn't hiking boot, sneaker or flip flop, color me uninterested.

I considered my general, lifelong aversion to the platform wedge anew as a result of the thoughtful piece What's up with high heels?, written by my friend and fellow author William Quincy Belle. In the essay, Belle delivers scientific insight into the popularity of kitten heels and a theory as to why both sexes are drawn to their effects on the feminine shape. Citing the biological phenomenon of "lordosis behavior," Belle wittily describes it as "a physical sexual posture seen in female animals. The back is arched inward (ventral arching) which helps to elevate the hips as an invitation to mate and as an aid in intercourse. Yes, this shows up in the Kama Sutra but is better known on the street as doggy style."

It is hypothesized that that simple act of stepping into heels creates a sexual environment - for wearer as well as audience. With the arched posture that only a heel can foment, a woman harnesses her powers of attraction, directly and indirectly eliciting an aroused reaction from admiring menfolk. We can't help this pattern we're told. It's wired into our DNA. Belle makes a rather compelling argument.

But how then to explain the outliers? The ladies like myself who have generally tended to prize function over form? When Belle circulated his post via his personal Facebook page, I found myself participating in this brief but enlightening discussion:

Becky Sarwate: I am immune to the apparently siren call. I never find discomfort sexy. Guess I am alone in that amongst my gender.

Friend of Belle
: Right there with you Becky Sarwate... I think I can generate plenty of sexual heat w/o heels.

Becky Sarwate: Friend, maybe we should start an awareness group. There must be more of our kind. Sexy in Sneakers!

So I'm wondering, are there more of us out there? Is there a small but vibrant minority of women who reject the very notion that we have to move through the day in pinched irritation in order to look and feel our best? If so, where are my sisters? In my own circle, I have several talented, educated, brilliant friends who will walk over hot coals in rocky terrain wearing four-inch heels, women who otherwise use logic to spin the various plates of life, as a matter of course. When queried as to why good sense goes out the window when it comes to sartorial aesthetics, the answer is generally some version of, "Because I look fabulous!" But ask why again, and the speaker invariably reverts to a defensive crouch of justifications that ring hollow, as if they've broken the assertive control displayed in other daily spheres in order to read from a script.

Maybe Belle's theory is right and the lure of heels is simple, unavoidable biology. But why then have I found them, and their companion in shapely vexation, thong underwear, so repellent? Yes, I hate physical discomfort but after careful consideration, I own that my distaste is more sharp and visceral than simple malaise.

I bristle at the suggestion that by forgoing the spikes, I've chosen the persona of tree-climbing tomboy, or have given up trying to follow the rules of attraction. I enjoy an active, diverse sex life and find nothing shameful in the declaration. Sex has never been taboo for me, nor has it been psychologically verboten to consider new ways to attract members of the other gender. I like to dress thoughtfully and apply makeup with care. I just don't see the point of primping below the kneecaps. I want my partner's gaze trained on my eyes and mouth. I don't find feet very sexy.

So is that it? A desire for comfort combined with an anti-foot fetish (with all respect to NFL coach Rex Ryan and his wife)? Perhaps another chapter in the story of patriarchal ideology rejection that is increasingly coming to define my life's journey?