Friday, December 19, 2014

Weathering the Storm

Was it just a minor coincidence that a downtrodden movie like “Gremlins” crept back into my awareness at the onset of the holiday season? Were there indeed universal energies that acted as a gravity in pulling my notice towards a film so clearly about the brutal shattering of lighthearted nostalgia? Just as the reality of adulthood acts as a decaying influence on the recesses of our youthful memories, so do the movies remind us that the innocence in all things must, yes, come to an abrupt end. That is not cynicism; that is reality. And as overpowering as the silliness may be in a story about gremlins that terrorize a small town at the onset of Christmas cheer, it nonetheless mirrors a universal sentiment in those scarred by the blast: we don’t get any younger, and fate does not get any kinder.

The 2014 holiday season has been one of morose undercurrents, brought on by a compost heap of current events (and some very personal ones) that seem like plot points in a Shakespeare tragedy. If this were a rainstorm in which the entire world’s problems play like elements in unrest, then we have been stranded in these circumstances as they pelt away with unrelenting severity, seemingly with no hope of shelter. We are drenched. I am drenched. And we arrived here, no less, out of desperation from a buildup of successive storms, too. Suffering, injustice, loss, pain – all sorts of emotions are not just isolated to a very recent time frame, and as we slowly slog our way to the final stretch, so many memories have been punctuated by alarming details.

Consider the degree of them and just how persistent they remain in the mind. Political unrest in election year came with a renewed sense of conflict in the Middle East. There were two grand jury acquittals of police officers in cases of suspected race crimes. A wide array of celebrated personalities died without warning. Rape accusations against a treasured television personality made headlines. Cyberspace hackings ranging from revealing photos of entertainers to private e-mails of Sony executives surfaced on the internet. Then there were threats of an Ebola outbreak, and conspiracy theories on school shootings. And not be outdone by any of the aforementioned, the news dealt another startling blow in the last two days that calls into question the endurance of free speech: namely, the censorship of a movie called “The Interview,” which was pulled from release a week shy of its premier due to threats from North Korea over a dissatisfying scene in the film involving their leader.

I never got a chance to see said movie, and doubt I ever will. But its exile into the vaults of motion picture oblivion is not nearly as surprising, alas, in the context of the lead-up, because the fallout is clearly in synch with the disturbing trend of bad news we are absorbed in. That does not stop at worldwide scenarios, either, and the downbeat mood of these events has been localized further by a series of personal experiences that cloud the peripheral. Moods – yours, mine, and certainly those we share time with – have collectively occupied the saddening rhythm of the times; to consider it all in context with recent knowledge of the untimely (and shocking) passing of loved ones brings the broader observations to a more heartbreaking context.

As these words are written, no less than three figures in the lives of a trio of close friends have passed into the night in just the span of two weeks, each without any sense of warning. These were not direct hits (though I knew some of them respectably), but it is my nature to own the emotions of those I care about, and as they are working their way through their grief I mourn for them as a secondary impulse. It’s depressing when those we love and treasure pass on, but the pain is intensified in the realization that their losses leave behind spaces that are inconsolable. To know that people around me are going through this in a time when everyone should be uniting in celebration of another year lived goes against every preconceived daydream we could ever hope to retain about holiday cheer. Were the paintings of Rockwell really just na├»ve dreams? Did the narrator of “A Christmas Story” deliver his memories while distancing himself from silent misfortunes? And for that matter, how did the Grinch become that dissenting voice of the holiday, anyway?

At times of intense self-reflection, I often turn to the movies for answers. In the recent weeks, that trend has drastically diminished; time has been limited, energy is depleted (new job transitions tend to do that to you), and a desire to go absorb the images on a screen were not exactly choice outlets. Unfortunately, that also meant another facet of my creative output suffered: I went into a paralyzing state of writer’s block. Some perhaps would not notice considering how well I’m tracking in terms of output, but the side effects were there. Less than a week ago I was halfway into a new Criterion essay, and when I read it I realized I had made the same three points at least a dozen different times. It meandered. In the next instant all the material was gone, and the notes I had collected sat once again silent on a corner of the desk, awaiting their use – time comes again, but not until the muse is ready to inspire.

The horrifying reality is that such circumstances are exactly what led to my long self-imposed sabbatical from film writing nine years before – an acknowledgment that was like some cruel splash of napalm on a battlefield of conflicted emotions. Unhealthy fears persist as considerations in the wake of what I have seen from the world in 2014, but none is quite as horrific as the thought that I could lose sight of the passion again; and contrary to what some might say, time away does not necessarily help creative batteries to recharge. Sometimes it takes me two or three hours to finish a review; when I wrote my first one in two years in the summer of 2013, I sat in front of that keyboard for well over six.

The threat of losing sight of the passion runs parallel, I think, to the negative emotions that come with all the tragedy around us. Why do we surrender so swiftly to the dark in times when we should be basking in the light? Life is hard, and sometimes it’s just as hard to fight what seems so inevitable: droves of human problems slapping us in the face. But there are ways to refocus the energy, and to remind ourselves (and others) that life is worth living in all contexts. Spend time with friends. Discuss lighthearted subjects. Listen to music that fills your soul with exhilarating euphoria. Learn to laugh, and embrace the simple things. Exchange positive energy. Make love. Try new things. Find the optimism in a moment of anger or anxiety. And most importantly, spend your time enjoying what you do. Because without that as a cornerstone, what are we doing any of this for, anyway?

Written by DAVID KEYES

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