Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Painted Veil (John Curran film, 2006)

Watching TV is spontaneous for me. When I am really tired, or feel justified in taking time to do nothing, I turn it on and scroll through the guide to see if there is anything worth watching. The result is that I often see bits and pieces of movies rather than being able to enjoy them in their entireties.

Recently, I looked to see what was airing and found that The Painted Veil with Edward Norton and Naomi Watts had just started. I have seen most of it at least three times, but I have always missed the beginning. Naturally, I thought I would see what I had missed. I love the time period, its fashions for women, the contrast with the earlier Victorian lifestyle, the instability of the British empire at that time. I love the cinematography, the misted Chinese landscape, and I love the story.

The film is based on the book by W. Somerset Maugham. Before seeing it, I had heard of Maugham and knew that I loved the occasional quotation that I would find attributed to him (“Writing is the supreme solace.” – on the masthead, here) but had never read any of his stories. After I first saw TPV, I ordered my first collection of Maugham’s short stories from my bookswap. I have been ever since an admirer of his work.

For each subsequent viewing of the movie, I have told myself that I will turn it off when I get to the part that I know will break my heart. The strategy works very well for watching Titanic: once the water gets up to the ankles it’s time to go, before the children are being put to bed, before the old couple lies down with their hands entwined to wait, before the life boats are boarded. Rose and Jack can continue their romance behind the scenes without the ending.

Every time I see The Painted Veil, I get to that moment, when Waddington (Toby Jones) calls to Mrs. Fane (Naomi Watts), “It’s your husband.” Every time, I am seduced by the story into watching more, watching what can happen when love overcomes human failings and transforms us. Then it is too late. Someone invariably walks in on me, nose stopped up completely and eyes red and running with their excess of saline. This frightens the my younger son; the older one shrugs and asks, again, “why do you watch this movie? It always makes you cry.”

I have given up trying to explain that I watch it for the same reason Kitty Fane picks up the roses in the florist's shop, though, as she points out, they’re hardly worth the expense: “They will only be dead in a week.” The beauty is worth the cost, for the roses, for the Fanes and for the story.

Monday, October 19, 2009

So Who Needs Mental Health?

When I had started this blog, I had anticipated writing about the realities of facing facts about a marriage that had long outlived its potential, and deciding to separate and divorce, including the personal struggles involved. The upside of the journey has been reconnecting with the things I love, like writing. Somewhere along the line, I started getting sidetracked.

One thing was that the man I was divorcing was reading the blog. I had attached a “visit my blog” tagline to my outgoing email, without anticipating that outcome. There’s no law against him reading my blog, but a discussion ensued about fair and unfair representation. The experience left me even more sensitive about what I’m blogging than I had been already. I had never set out to “bash” anyone in such a public forum, but felt like I needed to censor myself. I have had the same fears about the repercussions for being completely honest that I had before the separation and divorce. Obviously, I am determined to get past that.

In addition to considering the ex-husband’s potential reactions, I have gone through another loss, one which I still can’t share. If I can’t evaluate with any objectivity what’s appropriate to share from an experience because I am too close to it, then it is too soon to try. After a few months, it is still too difficult. It’s a situation that touches all the issues I have been working out in recent years, learning when I can trust myself; knowing that I am enough, regardless of what happens with other people; trusting that I am more than my mistakes – even if I have botched something important to me, I am not hopeless; there’s even the wild and crazy hope that at some point, there will be more joy in this life, that the sum of my choices isn’t an endless treadmill.
Flops are part of life's menu and I'm never a girl to miss out on a course. -- Rosalind Russell

While processing all of the above, I have been making the effort to cultivate my joy, in writing, in spending time with good friends and with my family, in feeding my creative spirit with plays and live music and art. Lately, I feel more and more that there is no time in my life to do anything other than to work and to parent. My second child, the one who has Asperger’s Syndrome, is having a particularly hard time getting adjusted this school year. This morning I had to go pick him up from school. That’s the second time in a week. Part of me thinks it’s time to buckle down and just commit for a while to work and to focus on my kids, and not even think about anything else. But I have tried that tunneled vision of living, and know that it’s a fairly direct path to a breakdown.

Through the past year, what I see again and again is that I have learned, finally, what doesn’t work. Denial and self-delusion, beating myself up, consenting to be a hostage to someone else’s expectations… those are all the old ways that don’t work.

It’s good to know what doesn’t work. That’s good information. But it is so difficult to be facing each day, still needing to learn the things that do work. At the same time, some days I am so raw I feel like I am walking around with the top layers of skin flayed. Every day that comes to an end without a fatal puncture to the thin skin I’ve got left seems like a miracle, or a sham. Maybe I am losing it, have lost it, but no one’s caught on.

One thing I know is that over the past few weeks, I have not been blogging, nor have I been doing much other writing. For the most part I have felt nothing but tired. There’s not much to say about that. Underneath the tired has been a lot of stuff I would rather not put out there, the sadness and a daily effort to reclaim hope. But not writing brings me inevitably to feeling completely out of control.

Today, after leaving to pick up my son from school, I have to scurry through a few hours of work before leaving early to take him to an appointment at the Children’s Hospital. It’s a scheduled appointment to reevaluate meds for him, in the effort to help him get back on track at school. It is already an insane sort of day. Despite the time crunch, I had to write. If I didn’t, I would not be able to focus on anything at all. Before I can work, I need to write. That’s one of the things that will work, if I can just remember it, every day.

I would like to learn, or to remember, how to live. -- Annie Dillard

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anticipation and Mental Health

My friend Lu often says that everyone needs to have something to look forward to doing. Whether it’s a monthly girls’ night out (which I have to start scheduling) or a vacation, being able to look ahead to something we enjoy will get us through the tedium of daily living.

Last spring, around the time that I was filing for divorce, I made sure I planned some fun things to keep myself busy. I went for an overnight visit to see one of my college roommates and take in a night of good music, planned to see Hamlet in town, signed up for a poetry writing workshop in the spring and bought tickets for a summer music festival. To some extent, I was planning distractions, to keep me in motion during the process of divorce and to keep me from brooding on my losses. It did make a difference to have my sights constantly set on something that was not too far away and that promised to be fun.

Lately, even when I’ve had something on the calendar, I haven’t quite been able to feel that sense of anticipated joy. Sometimes I have been just too busy to think ahead, or social outings still feel like they’re too much effort. There is a significant portion of life, especially a mom’s life, that seems to be dedicated to overcoming inertia. Just getting us all up in the morning was wearing me out. The separation and divorce left me mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Mental health, like dandruff, crops up when you least expect it. - Robin Worthington
I’m beginning to come around. I enjoyed talking with other parents at the school’s “Welcome Back BBQ” on Friday. While typically overwhelming, spending time with several of my siblings and our various children on Saturday was good, too (as we celebrated my mom’s 72nd birthday). I even took my boys from mom’s house to a Green Living Festival at a farm near where I grew up. The kids went through the Corn Maze, and I got to sit and enjoy a performance by Hoots and Hellmouth. (It is only in the past few years that I have remembered how much I love music, and have realized how much I enjoy seeing and hearing it performed live.)

In less than two weeks, I have plans to go out with one of my girlfriends to see the Avett Brothers perform at the Electric Factory. I have a great babysitter confirmed for the evening. I am usually pretty happy to spend short bits of free time with my notebook under a tree or in a coffee shop, but there is something exciting about definite plans to get out once in a while, to do something different. I find that it is key to purchase tickets in advance, which is a promise to myself that I really will expend the effort to engage a babysitter and really will go out.

The Lantern Theater Company is performing one of Moliere’s plays this winter, and the Screwtape Letters in the spring, and in May, the Opera Company of Philadelphia will offer La Traviata and I have at least one friend who is willing to see opera with me. Funding my cultural excursions is always an issue, but I hope to take in at least two of these shows. The kids and I may be receiving tickets to see Oliver! as a Christmas gift, adding the joy of sharing the arts with my boys.

In the long term, I have my sights set on a Master's in Fine Arts for writing. I am looking at a few different low-residency programs, brainstorming on child care options for the 7-10 day residencies that occur twice in the academic year. Financial Aid will be a huge factor, as will deciding whether to pursue a focus on poetry or fiction or creative non-fiction, or some combination. The nearer occasions of fun, as long as I keep working in between them, will keep carrying me closer to the days when I am actually preparing for the future goals, when (I hope) I will be amazed to get there, already.