Mr. Wow—Enlightened at 60? Ehhhhhh…Not So Much. But There’s Always 61.
On January 7th Mr. Wow turned 60. My birthday is always the traditional conclusion of “my” holiday season. For more years than I care to relate, the holidays have been less than holly-jolly, tho I have to admit, putting the tree up and sharing it with you guys has become quite a lot of fun.
However, this year I was struck with a cold that turned into a flu that turned into pneumonia. I was literally unable to move, no less lug a great big tree three blocks, set it up and spend hours decorating. The absence of the tree seemed to be symbolic of a fairly traumatic year. It began with being laid off from my job of many years and ended in an emergency room. I felt gloomier than usual (I know—hard to believe!)
But so much else was happening, especially the horrible massacre at Sandy Hook–I sure as hell didn’t want to write anything about my holiday blues. And then all the gun nuts came out to play, and Lance Armstrong wanted to finally confess—to Oprah of all people– and on and on. I felt silence was the merciful tactic. After all, a lot you have issues too. And when I am in a vaguely normal state, I am still aware that I’m luckier, healthier and could be happier than most people in this old world. (The “happier” part would actually involve my getting off my ass, metaphorically, and making myself happy. But God forbid I should strain myself.)
So, the big 6-OH was staggering. Not since I turned 20 had I been so affected by a birthday. (20 was a shock because I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and being a teenager was my bread and butter so to speak.) 30 was great. 40 was even better. 50 was not so hot, but that was because I’d begun my drift into what appears to be a permanently depressed state. Still, friends threw me a party and I mustered up my public face—a person who you’d never think had a depressed thought in his life.
But come on—60?! It had to be some cruel joke. Did I look 60? No, not really. Not at all, when I was healthy.
Did I feel 60? No, not at all, when I was healthy. But being flat on my back–hacking away, feverish and achy–poured gasoline on the fire of my self-pity and inevitable fears of death.
B. did his best throughout all this. And he has been a brick in general. But that’s not enough. I recall retching when I heard the phrase “you complete me” in the movie “Jerry Maguire.” Sorry, one person cannot “complete” another. You have to complete yourself.
I depend on B. for—well, almost everything. I remind myself of the great story about Tallulah Bankhead’s general helplessness—“She dropped an egg, and stood aside.” Well, I’ve dropped a lot of eggs in my time, and B. has been there to clean up the mess. But has he “completed” me? No. He has comforted, loved and protected me. And he’d complete me if he could. But that job belongs to me. I realize we are never finished in life until life is finished with us. But there has to be a point where you accept some aspects of yourself without immediately going into an orgy of self-criticism.
And after a while, the people around you begin to agree with your harsh assessments of yourself. Especially if—as in my case—one is persistent and eloquent in self-flagellation. Or, they feel pretty bad about themselves. It’s no fun for B. to hear me and see me dissatisfied constantly. What does that say about him, I’m sure he must wonder at times. “What’s the matter with me that I can’t make him happy?” (Honey, there’s nothing the matter with you, in case you have ever wondered.)
Because movie references jump to my head easiest, I am reminded of Elizabeth Taylor’s magnificent scene by the screen door in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” She says she cannot accept the fact that George, her husband, looked at her with love and thought, “Yes, this will do.” And that’s all I want. I want to be able to look in the mirror of my mind and say, “Yes, this will do.” That’s all. Of course I’d probably die of a stroke if I ever achieved that level of self-acceptance.
Soooo…during all these happy thoughts, while I lay on the couch in my room, cuddling with our purriest, most affectionate cat, Doll, I happened up an HBO series I’d never heard of or paid attention to. It’s called “Enlightened” and stars Laura Dern as a woman who freaks out at work, goes off to some sort therapeutic spa, and comes back, well—enlightened. Or so she imagines. I watched one episode and then got hooked into watching the whole season. (It was a marathon, leading up to the second season premier the next day.)
Dern’s character has to be the most wildly frustrating on television these days. She makes Claire Danes’ bipolar looniness on “Homeland” look like an eternal serenity vacation. The woman Dern plays has a fantastic feeling of entitlement, and an almost total lack of control in how she expresses herself. She is selfish and manipulative, though she doesn’t see herself this way at all. She thinks she’s always doing the right thing. Sometimes she even is. But inevitably she sabotages herself. And just when you think she has worked your last nerve, she expresses her deep feelings of loneliness, emptiness, self-loathing. She does see the other side of her actions, but she is incapable of staying on track. It was in these moments of Dern’s self-revelation that I was continually moved to tears. (Much as I was during so many seasons of “Six Feet Under.”) “Don’t you want to live?” she says to another character. “Aren’t you tired of dying? I’m so tired of dying.” Me too.
I don’t relate to the part of this character to wants so desperately to be recognized as a “somebody.” Maybe I’m simply reluctant to face that part of my personality. I’ve always felt I’d be an insufferable well-known person and/or a horrible boss. But I freely gave away my thoughts, ideas, talent (such as it is) because I was always afraid to stand on my own. I’m still not sure that wasn’t the correct thing to do. Being a background person probably gave me more of a “foreground” than I might have enjoyed on my own.
I want to be “enlightened.” I’m 60. It’s time. And time is so short.
I won’t lie and say I am moved to crying and caring deeply about the concerns of the world. I’m too selfish. I am aware they exist, and I am balanced by the knowledge that my problems don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. (As Bogie said to Bergman.) Sometimes I’ve even been motivated to send a donation or spend a New Year’s day or Christmas day helping at a shelter. But if I was honest, those were deeds done to make me feel better about myself. Still, I guess that’s better than not thinking or doing at all.
I want B. not to worry about me. I want him to feel he can depend on me, as I have depended on him.
Recently, somebody asked me, “Well, what do you want to accomplish in life?”
I replied: “I want to accomplish life.”
It’s not too late. 61 could be the best birthday ever.
Love, and thank you for your indulgence. And mine.
Watched Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in “An Affair to Remember” recently. Wept throughout. Because it is so bad. Honest. This is a romantic classic? I much prefer Miss Kerr as the gorgeous, sexually frustrated nun in “Black Narcissus.”
Watched a British gangster movie titled “Layer Cake” with Daniel Craig (just prior to his 007 days.) I will have to watch it again to actually know what the hell it was about, but, damn Daniel Craig is one fine specimen.
Watched the Golden Globes. Three cheers for Jodie Foster’s intimate, human and obviously not rehearsed remarks.
I am always scouring the Internet for new, rare, pics of Marilyn and Liz. (My childish infatuations will not abate!) Since Miss Taylor’s death, people are obviously clearing out their collections, so some nifty stuff pops up almost everyday. Fell on the floor finding a shot of ET circa 1980 with Rolling Stone Keith Richards. Keith is slugging Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. Miss T. wears an expression that says, “How dare you be so crude” or (much more likely) “Save some for me, asshole.”
And then there is Marilyn. One hundred years from now, people will still be unearthing new shots of this woman. Came across a pic taken just three weeks before her death. She is on the beach, the sun is setting. She’s wearing a bulky sweater to keep out the chill. Her stiff coiffure has been beaten up by the wind, blowing wild. The makeup has been smudged and washed away. She stands with one hand to her hair, trying to control it. And her left leg is prettily posed, relaxed, with a heartbreaking delicacy to the turn of that ankle. Fresh, vibrant, ready for the 1960s. Oh, well.
Listen, fan as I am, if Marilyn hadn’t died when she did, how she did, we sure wouldn’t be obsessed with her today. (I do hope for an afterlife in which Miss M. can appreciate how appreciated she is now.)