Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Well Deserved!

When Moonlight was announced as the true winner of Best Picture, I was pleased--not because I thought Lala Land was bad, or because I had even seen Moonlight (I didn’t and I hadn’t)--but because something told me that Moonlight deserved the world’s attention. I finally watched Moonlight tonight with my friends and my feeling from Oscar night was affirmed. I left the theater feeling contented.

I had expected to feel sad, but I was satisfied that the characters of this film, apart from one nasty character, were portrayed with love, respect, and understanding. Watching them on screen felt less like examining them and more like gently cradling them in my mind until I felt I’d accomplished a fairly deep understanding of who they were.

The film is an account of the life of Chiron, an introverted boy who is bullied by some and rescued by others. The positive people and negative people seemed easy to distinguish until his friend Kevin blurred the line between friend and foe. The original script was a play in three acts. The movie preserved that style of being split into three chapters, one portraying Chiron as a child, one as a teenager, and one as an adult. The continuum of Chiron’s life rolled out smoothly with the actors playing both Chiron and Kevin looking like the same people at different ages.

The music in this film played an important role, setting the mood for scenes. One of my favorite songs, “Cocoroco Paloma” by Caetano Veloso, played and although I associate that song with the film “Talk to Her,” I think it also worked well in this film. The most beautiful scene is when Kevin plays a song for Chiron on the juke box at his work. The two characters aren’t able to express their feelings, even as adults, so music has to do the job. I loved how Chiron still seemed like an awkward and vulnerable teenager toward the end of the film, the gold fronts on his teeth looking like braces in an adolescent mouth.

This is one of the most beautiful films and caring accounts of a life I’ve ever seen. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Manchester by the Sea

I left the theater, letting the powers of this absorbing film continue to absorb in a kind of post-film cool down, the kind of cool down you need after giving your brain a workout. I felt peaceful and inspired, contrary to the reactions of friends who had seen Manchester by the Sea, or who had tried to see it, but couldn’t get very far due to the sadness factor.

My good friend told me, “It’s slow and depressing, but you liked Brooklyn so you might like this one too.” That turned out to be an accurate prognosis. Both Manchester by the Sea and Brooklyn involve love and heartbreak, complex relationships with both people and places, and conflict between the past and the present. Also, both films examine working-class characters with accents that add depth to the characters’ authenticity.

I loved Manchester by the Sea. Everything was so palpable. Casey Affleck plays Lee, a broken man whose flashbacks to his old life with his wife and children explain his frequent flights of self-harm. Lee’s general approach to life is to act as if he’s doing a thankless chore, perhaps expelling the vile contents of a clogged sink, which is also what he does for a living.

I had seen another film by the same director, Kenneth Lonergan. His film Margaret also commanded my respect because it’s about complex characters. I found that dignity and honesty so refreshing, even purifying because I was able to see his films’ characters at their most vulnerable and not judge them for mistakes they had made. So often we hear a little bit about people who have screwed up and snap to harsh judgments. We are so quick to condemn each other. How do they sleep at night? How do they look at themselves in the mirror without throwing up? What a terrible mother! (A passerby in Manchester by the Sea even says, “Nice parenting,” to Lee when he sees him arguing with his nephew.) The film is full of small, self-righteous characters who think they understand more than they do.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.” I believe that’s good advice for writers and non-writers. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but films like Manchester by the Sea serve to remind us that we are all complicated people with our own set of demons.     

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On Hold

I’m listening to repetitive soft rock music, courtesy of my bank, which has me on hold. I’m imagining some mundane 80s or 90s romantic film, scenes transitioning between a man and woman doing their daily routines in their separate worlds: brushing their teeth, opening their umbrellas, walking down the street to the bus stop, or frowning at a parking ticket on their windshield. The audience watching this film knows that the people are destined to meet. Their lives will be forever transformed, their blissful romance blossoming, their boring worlds colliding and forming something spectacular. These people, let’s call them Guy and Ines, are now rid of their lonely routines, which had been accompanied only by a dull, repetitive keyboard music. The audience thinks, “They used to be ordinary people like us, but now their lives are marvelously happy and exciting. How romantic! Then the music abruptly stops and a woman’s voice thanks me for holding.

I came to the realization today that I should try to work on my listening skills, not because I’m a bad listener, but because some people don’t appreciate my style of listening. Occasionally, someone wants to let off steam, and I respond to them the same way I like people to respond to me, by relating. If someone says, “I had a dream that I was eating a taco and the taco had Donald Trump’s face in it! It was so scary!” I might say, “Yikes! That sounds terrifying. I had a dream that Anthony Hopkins took me mirror shopping in this really creepy antique store and I was trying to get away from him!” My aim is not to steal anyone’s thunder or shift the focus back to me. Really, it’s just to say, “Hey, we both have weird dreams!” I suppose it’s the teacher in me that so badly wants to make connections. I don’t want students to just listen to me and then never relate to the words and concepts I’m teaching them, to never apply the skills I’m teaching to their own lives.

My friend Kelley, who has a sophisticated understanding of people, tells me that most people just want to be heard. I know that’s important. People need to feel heard and sometimes it seems people aren’t paying attention when really they are. I also enjoy knitting while talking, and some people find that distracting. Trying to relate to what someone is saying by sprinkling in your own anecdotes can be similar to multi-tasking when someone is talking. It drives some people crazy.

I suppose that’s why I need to practice the art of being put on hold. Only then can I resist the urge to interrupt and share. I am on hold, in the thrall of whatever someone else is saying or whatever music is playing. This can be especially tedious if the hold music is repetitive, like the kind my bank plays. But I think it will be good for me.  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

An Amulet Against Fear

The pendant on my new necklace looks like an intricate but asymmetrical snowflake. The artful Arabic calligraphy reads “Maşallah,” a word I have appropriated and use whenever I want to exclaim over the beauty or excellence of something. Some folks also believe that uttering this word is a way to banish evil.

My necklace, purchased in the Sabancı Museum gift shop, will go with the evil eyes I’ve purchased in Greece and Turkey, along with other spangled, studded, and sparkly symbols of protection. I don’t wear a cross, as I have never identified as Christian. I’m much more drawn to the power this blue eye holds.

As a teenager, I hesitated when my first crush, a Catholic, suggested I wear a chastity ring. Sure, jewelry can symbolize promises to other people: two halves of a Best Friends charm, a heart-shaped locket, or a friendship bracelet made of colorful string by kids at camp. I suppose a wedding ring is the ultimate promise and symbol of protection. It’s the most prized and valuable symbol anyone could give. And yet, excluding a necklace or two given to me by ex-boyfriends, all my jewelry symbolizes promises I have made to myself.

With this necklace I am promising to reject my flying anxiety, which crept up on me like a fungus after a terrible Air France flight. I have also sworn to never fly Air France again, although I do not need a piece of jewelry to remind me of that promise. I know it may sound strange to replace an irrational fear with an irrational feeling of security based on an Arabic expression adorning my neck, but this Air France flight proved to me that my other support systems weren’t working. Usually, when turbulence gives me a hint of anxiety, I look at the flight attendants. If they’re calm, I’m calm. But what happens if the plane suddenly swerves to the left and descends precipitously upon Istanbul and the flight attendant screams over the speaker, “Everyone buckle up! It’s dangerous!” Once the pilot slowed down and evened the plane, he explained over the speaker that he had to swerve and descend rapidly to avoid hitting another aircraft. I think after that experience I may be better off placing my hand on a pendant that has special meaning to me than trying to mirror the mood of flight attendants who are freaking out.

As creatures of habit, we get stuck in ruts of irrational beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs are harmless: Maşallah pendants and evil eyes give protection, the Mamas and the Papas music playing out of the blue means it’s going to be a great day, a row of ıdentıcal numbers on a digital clock mean something amazing is going to happen. (These beliefs have been brought to you exclusively by Meriwether’s mixed up mind.) Then there are the dangerous ruts some minds may sink into, such as “Muslims are dangerous. We need to ban them! Mexicans are dangerous. We must create more barriers.” It’s easy for a lot of people to get bogged down and stuck in the gooey mud of these ideas. We all like to think we’re on the side of the good guys, but the truth is the bad guys make up a small portion of humanity and these so-called bad guys, or “bad hombres,” don’t belong to any ethnic or religious group.

So how do we get on solid ground again? There’s hope! If I may use my flying anxiety as an example, I am working on dispelling this fear. I am tending to the garden of my mind, weeding out bad ideas and helping positive ones grow. I know flying is way safer than driving. But it’s still a relatively new experience to be sitting in a chair in the sky, even for a world traveler like myself. The truth is that the daredevil pilot on the Air France flight was probably just doing what he needed to do. And that flight attendant was reasonably scared and needed to get a message out more clearly than flashing the seatbelt sign could have accomplished. That flight was an isolated incident. I’m not going to stop flying. I’m not going to stop traveling. I would like to visit some more Muslim countries, such as Jordan, Morocco, Iran, Egypt, and Oman and I would appreciate it if the governments of those countries do not retaliate against our government’s hateful, ignorant measures with hateful, ignorant measures of their own.

We must remind ourselves to learn before we judge and think before we act, otherwise our fears will enshroud us and our judgments will lead to actions that imperil us all.