Terrifying Certainty

I have only been paying partial attention to the news about the tragedy in Santa Barbara and the ensuing #YesAllWomen campaign.  I haven’t seen the videos or manifesto, I haven’t read the blog responses, but I feel compelled to write my own response anyway (largely because of some things David Krumholtz had to say on Twitter).

When I was in high school and college I remember feeling a terrifying certainty that I was completely alone, that no one would ever understand me or feel the way I was feeling.  I remember feeling a desperate need to connect to another human being and having my hormones, and my peers, and even some sections of society and the media telling me that the best place to find that connection was sex, while other factions were telling me that sex was wrong and dirty.

I also remember being truly afraid that someone would come along and take the choice of when (and with whom) to have sex away from me.  I know I’m not alone in that fear and, while it’s definitely not exclusive to women and girls, it is much more common among us (it may even be universal among us).

I grew up and I learned that sex isn’t the only, or the even the best, way to connect with someone.  I learned that we are all the same and looking for that same connection and that we all feel alone sometimes (maybe a lot). I’m not trying to defend the actions of the Santa Barbara shooter, but I do think we could all afford to remember a time when we felt completely alone and were desperate for some kind of connection.  So I am fully on board with #YesAllWomen, and with David Krumholtz addition #YesAllTeenageBoys, and I would add #YesAllHumanBeings.

A love like mine

On my way to work this morning I was catching up on the backlog of Ask Me Another episodes that I have saved on my iPod (I think I’m only a couple years behind now). Cristin Milioti was the surprise VIP. She had yet to become the mother on How I Met Your Mother and they were interviewing her about her early days on Once.  She was saying that they were performing it in a bar for an audience of 10 and she was sure the show was not going to make it.  She said she almost wished it wouldn’t because she loved it so much that part of her wanted to keep it just for herself.

My first reaction was that I have no idea what that feeling is like.  I am made of 100% pure hyperbole.  I don’t just like things, I love them, and when I love something there has to be an outlet for the excess hyperbole or I might explode.  I want everyone to love what I love as much as I do.  I take the whole talk about what you love and keep quiet about what you don’t maxim very seriously.  Sometimes it’s like I just stopped listening at “talk about what you love” that’s how much I proselytize about the things I love.  [FYI, right now it's Enlisted. It's on Fox Friday at 9pm - 8pm central - and you have to watch it, it's awesome and if it gets cancelled I will blame you]

I take great pleasure in getting people to watch Friday Night Lights and hearing about how it keeps them up at night because they have to watch just one more episode (just like I did when I started watching it).  I’ve gotten all of my friends addicted to How I Met Your Mother.   When I donated to the Veronica Mars Kickstarter for premier and after party tickets I chose the Austin premier because being at Veronica Marsathon in Austin in 2006 made me feel like part of a community of Marshmallows and I wanted to re-connect with that feeling.  I truly love being among like minded people.

So, my first reaction was baffled at the idea of loving something and not wanting to share that with people, but then I started to think about how even when I do get others to seemingly love something as much as I do I still feel like  no one will ever quite understand how I feel.  Not necessarily like I love it more than they do, but like there’s something unique about the way I feel about it that no one else gets.  And I guess, in the grand, philosophical sense, it’s kind of true that no one will ever feel exactly how I feel.  I am the very specific mix of my genetic material combined with my experiences and, whether you are in the nature camp or the nurture camp I think we can all agree, no one else shares our specific combination of nature and nurture.  So, the things I love really are, kind of, mine in a way that they can never belong to anyone else.

It’s this wonderfully beautiful dichotomy to share the things you love with people that simultaneously makes you feel like part of something bigger than yourself and also like you have something that is all yours that no one else can ever truly understand.

The Language of Love

A couple years ago some friends of mine were debating the use of language.  In particular some were lamenting the use of the dreaded C-word and another was saying that we ought to use it as often as possible to desensitize people to it so it would no longer be the worst thing you can ever call a woman (or anyone for that matter).

The more I thought about it though the more I thought that it’s not just about using a word a lot in order to desensitize people to it, or “take it back”. You have to use it in a different, preferably opposite, way from it’s common usage and be okay with everyone using it (in the new way).  It’s a little bit like free speech in that way, you have to willing to let other people say things you hate because it has to apply to everyone.

More recently, I was listening to Josh Radnor talking to Aisha Tyler (on her podcast, Girl on Guy) about why he quit swearing.  He was talking about how he thinks the words we put out into the world have a huge influence on our reality, that they create our reality, and if we put negative words out there then they contribute to creating a negative world.  I agree with that sentiment but not precisely.  You see, I also agree with George Carlin who said that there are no bad words only bad thoughts and bad intentions.  Words on their own have no meaning, our thoughts and intentions give them meaning.

If, for example, someone says “I love you” but they say it in a language you don’t understand, how would you know what they meant? What if they said, “Go f*** yourself” in a foreign language? I have, on occasion, attempted to communicate with people who don’t speak the same language I do and I think that even when they don’t understand the words they often understand the meaning because of tone, or body language, or the context.  I might not go quite so far as to say that it doesn’t matter what you say, only how you say it, or how you intend it, but I would say that the intention matters way more than the words themselves.

I’ve always had a somewhat conflicted view on language.  I love that language is constantly changing and evolving, but I also hate it when people misuse words and it kind of bothers me when it happens so much that the misuse becomes accepted as correct. Language is a tool for communicating ideas but in order for it to work there has to be a certain level of agreement about it.  One person misuses a word or phrase but people understand what they meant  and so don’t correct them.  Over time, more people misuse it but they are still understood and eventually the misuse becomes accepted because people understand it.  Eventually the misuse becomes the common use and ultimately the only use.

I saw Russell Brand’s new show, Messiah Complex a couple times.  He has a bit about language in it that seemed to me like an anti-hyperbole stance.  He laments the way advertising slogans are co-opting grand sentiments like love and satisfaction to sell products thereby diminishing their meaning and leaving us at a loss for how to express those sentiments to each other.  I tend to use a lot of hyperbole.  I don’t just like things, I LOVE them, they are the best thing I’ve ever seen, heard, read, experienced.  Maybe he’s right though, maybe that kind of hyperbole diminishes my – our – ability to communicate, to truly understand each other and be understood.

Choice: The Enemy of Happiness?

My very first blog was titled “We’ll Die With Our Options Open”.  It was the punch line to a joke I heard third hand about how our generation is super indecisive.  I wasn’t entirely certain it was unique to my generation but I could definitely relate so I took it for the title of my blog and it was appropriate for a lot of what I wrote about early on.

I still sort of feel like too much choice is sometimes the enemy of happiness.  I know this is hardly a problem, but at the same time I have regularly been sort of paralyzed by choice to an extent and I know I’m not the only one.

Stephen Merchant was on Conan last night talking about how much dating sucks because there’s too much choice.  He’s got a point.  Technology has made the world a smaller place expanding dating prospects to roughly half of the adult single people in the world (or all of the adult single people in the world if you’re bisexual).  Increased lifespan reduces the urgency, for men at least. I always felt like it must be nice for men.  All that variety but no fertility expiration date hanging over their heads.

Russell Brand said recently that he’s looking for a kind, sweet, sexually adventurous wife and he wants to have a family.  I had two immediate reactions 1) I’m sure there are thousands of girls, tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands who fit that profile and would jump at the chance to marry Russell Brand and 2) he’s also got the luxury of time, he can hold out until he’s 50 then marry a 25 year old and still have kids.  Stephen Merchant is making a pretty good case that all the variety and none of the urgency is not such a good thing though.

The thing is, it’s not just dating, or to be precise mating, that is more confusing now than in medieval times.  Now you have to choose a career path too.  In medieval days you lived in your small village, and you never left, and you married whomever was around your same age and not dead yet, and had kids immediately, but you also most likely went into the family business. It doesn’t stop at career path either, you have dozens of little choices you have to make every day (what to eat, what to wear, etc).  Too much choice can be overwhelming.

Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith though.   Just make the choice and go with it and believe that it’s for the best.

Short Attention Span Theater

In the latest issue of Parade there’s an article about Mindy Kaling in which she talks about how insulting it is that people are constantly asking her where her confidence comes from and she says, “…while I’m talking about why I’m so different, white male show runners get to talk about their art.”

I agree with her that it’s a little insulting. I mean, there’s an implication that the confidence is unwarranted when you ask where it comes from. I don’t think people mean it that way, but it’s hard to ignore that implication.

I think it takes an inordinate amount of confidence to be an actor, or writer, or musician, or comedian, or any kind of artist.  You have to believe that you have something unique to say that is so fascinating or funny or wonderful that people will want to hear it, maybe even that they need to hear it.  I think it’s a question that should be posed to every artist not because they aren’t full of awesome but because the amount of rejection involved prior to success in any of “the arts” is so huge that I can’t imagine enduring it and being able to maintain any confidence at all.  You have to have not only an inordinate amount of confidence but also faith.  Kevin Smith says you need to have a reasonable amount of unreasonability to attempt to make a career in the entertainment industry and I think that’s an apt description.

So, it’s pretty clear that Mindy Kaling’s confidence comes from being awesome and she’s got a point about people asking about it.  The thing I disagree with is that white male show runners get to talk about their art.  I mean, maybe white male show runners get to talk a little more about their art than the Mindy Kalings and Shonda Rhimes of the world, but not much.  The real problem is the media need to crystallize everything down to one or two points lest their audience lose interest.

The thing is, I don’t think it’s really the audience that has a short attention span, I think it’s the media.  They give everyone 5 minutes to promote their show, or movie, or book and if I had to guess I’d say that every single one of the hundreds of 5 minute interviews a show runner does are pretty identical.  The media, they need a hook, something to get ratings or sell magazines and that something is never an insightful discussion about the art, it’s almost always something superficial about the artist (whether that artist is male or female, white or not).

Personally I’d love to hear lengthy, complex discussions about shows I love (or movies, or books, etc.). Instead, because I’m a Mindy Kaling fan, I read the same article about how she’s a curvy, Indian, woman, workaholic, perfectionist over and over again and wish, like she does, that someone would ask her about something else.  I’m also a How I Met Your Mother fan and I read the same article about Craig Thomas and Carter Bays met at Wesleyan where Craig Thomas also met his wife, and how much of Ted, Marshall, and Lily come from their real lives.  I’m also a fan of Russell Brand, and all I get to read about him is who he’s rumored to be dating or dumping this week and what’s the most orgasms he’s had in a single day.  I’m a fan of Liberal Arts, but you know what, because that was an independent film if people talk about it at all it’s only as a precursor to them asking Josh Radnor about How I Met Your Mother, and how he feels about it ending and what on earth he will do when it’s done.  There are some long form interview programs (like HuffPost Live, for example) that do slightly better, but even they tend to come back to whatever hooks they think are the juiciest.

The exception to the vapidness in media rule is podcasts.  Kevin Smith interviews people on his SModcast, or SMovieMakers podcasts and talks to them about more than just the hooks.  Aisha Tyler,  Kevin Pollak, Norm Macdonald…they have legitimately interesting conversations with people on their podcasts. For the most part those are passion projects of artists that mostly cost more money than they make.  I’d love to devote my life to having real, meaningful conversations with writers, and actors, and musicians, and artists about their art and the things that are important to them, but there’s no money in it and I have student loans to pay back.

What I did on my summer vacation.

I haven’t written anything in a really long time but there was a time when I had three active blogs. This weekend I was inspired to write again and I couldn’t quite figure out which of my three dormant blogs to post it on.  My most recently active blog is basically a series of open fan letters and post about things and people that I love.  This story could fit there, it’s very much about me being a huge fan.  My least recently active blog was all about shows I’d been too and places I’d traveled, it was about saying yes to life (I titled it, “For the Thrill of It”).  This story could fit there too, it’s very much about me saying yes to life (and travelling, and seeing a show). I ultimately decided to post it here because I feel like my philosophy, my world view, my faith lead me down this path and informed the entire experience.

If you were a reader of the former incarnation of this blog you probably know that I do not really practice any religion, but none the less I am a believer.  I believe in the divine.  I have an enormous amount of faith. In fact, I would say, I have too much faith to believe in just one version of God.  I have to believe in them all. I’ve tried to explain the way I feel to people but most of the time I feel like I’m speaking a different language than everyone else.

I have been a huge fan of Kevin Smith for more than half my life (which is covered twice on one of my other blogs).  Faith is actually one of the things that I’ve always liked about Kevin Smith.  He was vocal about his Catholic faith.  His wasn’t exactly a blind faith, he had questions, but he never seemed to think that the questions he had were detrimental to his faith.  In fact, my interpretation of Dogma is that, he seemed to believe questioning was vital to his continued faith. He appears to have started moving away from Catholicism in recent years, but he seems to still be a person of faith.  He’s just transferred his faith onto other things which is something I can really relate to.

It’s not just Kevin Smith’s movies that I’m a fan of; I listen (religiously?) to several of his podcasts.  I got a new job last winter though and I fell behind in my podcast listening.  About three months ago, on road trip from Seattle to Portland, I was starting to catch up and I heard Russell Brand on Kevin Smith’s SModcast.  In that podcast Russell Brand said that all religions are just sign posts pointing to the same thing.

It’s not like I thought that no one believes the same things I believe.  Rainn Wilson’s SoulPancake is an entire online community of people many of whom are at least open to the idea that there are things we can learn from all religions, and Josh Radnor talks a lot about the things we can learn from various religions (he wrote this great prayer, and his episode of Girl on Guy gets into religious and philosophical issues as well).  I even know some people personally who believe some of the same things I do, but I’d never heard almost exactly the words I use to describe my religious belief coming from someone else before.

It’s not like I’d never heard of Russell Brand before and I was certainly not indifferent to him.  I liked him, as an actor.  I liked Get Him to the Greek, and I loved Arthur and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but I’d never seen any of his stand up or read his books.  Of course, as soon as I heard him on SModcast talking about how he believes in god and is “well into Jesus” and that all religions are the same, within a week I read both of his books, and watched every episode of Brand X, and his comedy specials, and watched and read every interview, and listened to every podcast…if he spoke publicly and it was available on the internet I read/watched/listened to it. The more I read/watched/listened the more I felt like finally there was someone not only speaking the same language I do, but doing it from center stage of an incredibly large platform (over 7 million Twitter followers) in a way that people seemed not only to understand but to agree with.

I went to see his show, Messiah Complex, when he came to Seattle and I loved it so when I saw that there was a charity auction for tickets and a meet and greet with him in Austin, of course, I bid.  It was a good cause, an opportunity to see the show again, an opportunity to meet Russell Brand, and an opportunity to spend a couple days in Austin; in other words: win/win/win/win.

I gave one of the tickets to my mom and we were both really excited to go.  The show was awesome (again).  I felt like it was even better the second time for a bunch of reasons but mostly because of the crowd.  The crowd in Seattle seemed like they were just there for the comedy, which is fine, but the crowd in Austin seemed way more into the political and spiritual aspects of the show.  I felt like I was among like minded people in Austin.  It’s an amazing feeling when your in an audience at a show and the energy of the crowd is totally in line with your own.

After the show was over a bunch of people rushed down to the the stage and he stayed there for like 20-30 minutes talking to his fans, signing autographs, taking pictures, hugging everyone.  He looked genuinely engaged.  I mean, of course, he’s a talented actor so he could have been faking it, but he really looked genuinely engaged with each and every person.  He looked moved.  I was moved watching it.

We were told to wait off to the side for the meet and greet and there were a few others waiting there with us.  For a while my mom and I just talked to each other about how awesome the show was and how happy we were to be in Austin.  Eventually, Russell waved goodbye to the crowd, went back stage, and the crowd (but for those of us waiting off to the side) left the theater.  At that point a couple of women near by struck up a conversation with me and my mom.  One of them starts out by saying how this meet and greet is being run very unprofessionally.  She says she’s been to a bunch of meet and greets like this and she’s never seen one so unprofessional.

My initial reaction is to wonder if she and I were watching the same show.  Russell Brand’s show is all about how we are all one, we are all the same.  It’s about coming together and eliminating the artificial boundaries that separate us.  How can this girl possibly begrudge the crowd their opportunity to meet the man and have a genuine connection with him.

I mean she’s complaining about the fact that she has to wait while he’s talking to fans.  She’s saying stuff like why did she pay all this money for the meet and greet when she could have just rushed the stage at the end of the show and met him that way.  She even complained that the seats weren’t close enough.

I say to her that maybe they want us to wait so we get a more one on one meeting unlike all the fans crowded around the stage. I point out, assuming rightly that she got her meet and greet the same way I got mine, that the money went to a good cause.  She acknowledges the charitable aspect but she keeps complaining.  I say that it was a great show, that if all I’d wanted was to meet him I would have waited by the stage when I saw him in Seattle (like the people she’s complaining about) instead of flying 2000 miles. I tell her that I’d see this show every night if I could. My mom, who’s just super happy to be there at all, says that she and I don’t really have much to compare it to and manages (briefly) to get her on a different subject but not for long.  The complaining continues and it’s harshing my metaphorical buzz.  It’s the antithesis of the energy I felt from the crowd during the show.

None of what I’m saying seems to be getting through to this girl so I make as graceful an exit from the conversation as I can and when my mom and I are alone again I say to her that I think it’s nice that he took the time to talk to his fans. She agrees and adds that he must be tired after putting on a nearly 2 hour show during which he barely stops moving for a second so he probably needs some time backstage to decompress before meeting with us.  We both think it’s sweet that he was hugging, and kissing, and taking pictures with everyone.  In that SModcast conversation Russell Brand told Kevin Smith that the reason his seduction works, when it does work, is because there isn’t an ounce of duplicity in it. Watching him talking to fans I felt like that statement is probably true of everything he does.  There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of duplicity in him on any level.

For me, even if I hadn’t gotten to meet Russell Brand, the story could have ended there and I would have been happy.  Seeing his show, the things he talks about make me feel genuinely connected to the universe and my own humanity.  Seeing him genuinely connecting with people also makes me feel more connected in general. So, giving to a great cause, seeing the show, and watching him interact with the fans would have been enough. Getting to meet him was the icing.

The first word that came to mind when meeting Russell Brand was “gentle”. If you’ve seen any of his shows you’ll know that they are energetic, almost manic energy. Also, he’s always asking people to “give him a cuddle” and when I see it on television it appears so aggressive but in reality the Russell Brand cuddle was…gentle.  My mother gushed like Huell Howser; she couldn’t stop telling him how amazing he was and he asked her to give him a cuddle.  I gushed and told him that I would see his show every night if I could and he asked me to give him a cuddle. He hugged me for kind of a long time.  Then while he was hugging me he leaned on me for a moment and told me he was tired.

It’s not surprising that he was tired, like I said he didn’t stop moving for almost two hours (it’s a very kinetic show).  I’m kind of used to people telling me how they’re feeling even in situations where it seems out of context or non-sequitur and in this case it was completely within context so it wasn’t surprising to hear him say it either.  What was surprising was how nice it was to hear him say it.

In the past I’ve said that it seems like I have “tell me how you feel” stamped on my forehead or something because it happens so often.  Maybe he was so tired that he had to say it to someone and I happened to be there.  Maybe whatever it is about me that makes people want to unburden themselves was at play there.  Whatever the case, it felt so normal, it made me happy. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I am a fan so I did tell him how much I loved his show and I did get a picture with him, but one of the reasons I’m a fan is that he makes me feel more connected to the universe and my humanity so it was nice to meet him and just be human beings for a moment.