Friday, February 20, 2009

Symptoms of Discontent

Some days a cohesive thought just doesn't come. Some days I sit down to blog and find my words take me down winding, not entirely unexpected, gravel roads. Today is one of those days.

News is grim. Worry is prevalent. I wonder how self-absorbed I am when I'm preoccupied with word count and the family down the street is struggling to pay their next grocery bill. I justify the dalliance of fiction as a necessary commodity in hard times. An escape. To an extent, it is. I remember feeling the same way after September 11th. The fiction I write, not the slash-your-wrists-Oprah-pics, are stories about overcoming adversity. Hope and love. Who can't use more of that? But is it enough?

I lived in rural America for a time in the 90s. My generation's curse, the hunger for more and faster, was a rampant symptom of my discontent. I was a city girl on a crusade to inspire my students to so much more beyond owning the local Dairy King and driving combine harvesters someday. But after fifteen years of falling victim to theft twice, countless incidents of vandalism, city corruption and breathing in everyone else's pursuit of the fast lane, I think those students taught me more in return. How awful would it really be in the hard times forecasted ahead to live where I have the space to start a garden and have the option to walk to a store? Where fresh corn comes from a neighbor's acreage, not from a farmer's market I had to spend $2 in gas to get to. Where I might actually share a glass of lemonade with my neighbors instead of worrying about registered sex offender rumors. Is the reshaping of my values a product of media-fueled fear or a romanticized notion of how life should be? John Titor may have been a nutjob hoax, but is there not a grain of truth in everything? Maybe he represented more wish than inevitability.

Last weekend I went to see Gran Torino. I'd always respected Clint Eastwood, but he'd flown under my girly-not-of that-generation radar until his memorable performance in The Bridges of Madison County. After Gran Torino, he's pushed aside some of my previous top ten favorite actors and stepped firmly to the forefront. In a quiet, almost-vacant theater on the cusp of what probably amounts to the movie's final week at the box office, a powerful cinematic experience unfolded. Rarely do films leave me with a gift. This one left me with a golden ticket of perspective. The intolerance I had toward small town life manifests itself now into the frustration I have toward relatives who live by the same creed as Walt Kowalski, Eastwood's character. I've heard more racial slurs dropped at family gatherings than potato salad on the carpet. I'd dismissed them as the grizzled after-burn of a life lived without happiness. But in the two hours that unfolded during that film, I saw my own intolerance and was saddened. This movie resonates with so many because Kowalkski gives voice to everything we are afraid to say and think and do. He is a modern day hero of our discontent and an increasingly collective longing to return to the basics: family, honor, love.

I don't profess to know what's around the corner and there are still days when my Pollyanna-self struggles to see the glass half full. But if I didn't have an unyielding faith in the human spirit, I wouldn't strive to explore it through writing. Fiction reflects life. The most fertile inspiration is yet to come.

Next Week: The final countdown to THE 90,000 word, fifth draft END. Like a shower to present this babe to the world, I'll bring those horribly ugly first snapshots for everyone to lavish with disingenuous oohs and ahhs.


Sue L said...

I fell in love with Rowdy Yates as a teen and have never looked back. I haven't seen Gran Torino yet, but I intend to. I've heard some unfavorable reviews from some young people that saw it. In contrast and comparison with your review, it seems they didn't 'get' it on the level you did.

Pam said...

I think if more of us were concerned with hope and love, overcoming adversary, be it in fiction, mindset or just our everyday actions, there would be less of the darkness, but sadly, some people find a very comfortable home there.

And Clint? Yeah, he's amazing, in so many ways.

Kim Lenox said...

These are troubling times -- but I think in many ways, they help us all (we hope) examine what's most important to us.

I love Clint Eastwood. What a great actor. I haven't seen Gran Torino yet, but am looking forward to it.

Can't wait to see your new "baby". :)

Charles Gramlich said...

As I grow older I wonder sometimes, perhaps increasingly, how much of what I believe might be intolerance, and how much might be simply an understanding of truth. It's not always easy to recognize or escape our own biases.

Anonymous said...

In a world of darkness, there is always room for light, humor, and absurdity.

Love Eastwood, even if he is a Republican. Great actor, even better director. Heard this is his last screen appearance; hopefully not his last movie.

the walking man said...

Is it self absorption to be concerned with the things that concern you? Yes it is troubling that the family up the street is having a hard time of it, yet beyond a bag of groceries, what can you do? Open up your house to shelter them in when they lose theirs? Then comes the point where generosity is understood by them receiving it as their right to have?

I realize that the longer this environment of cynicism and need goes on, it becomes self perpetuating, I see it in my self, my neighbors, my city which has been in depression for 5 years now. To be honest I think distrust and cynicism the right attitude for the right time.

"It will get worse" Obama has said. Worse here means open and violent confrontation in the streets, more street crime in a place already beset by crime and Kowalski style anger may be the only road to survival.

I have not been bothered at all by the racial slurs hurled at me for decades, but I also am wary, more so now than ever, of them doing the hurling.

Maureen McGowan said...

Fabulous post, L.A.

I haven't seen Gran Torino because the trailer made it seem a tad cliche to me... But you're not the first person who's recommended it... so I must put aside my preconceived notions and see it.

Sounds like you felt the same way coming out of it as I have after a couple of films.. for me, those were Grand Canyon (back in the early 90's) and Crash. (The Paul Haggis one, not the Cronenburg one.)

As for rural vs city life... I live in a big city and while I don't, lots of my neighbours have vegetable gardens. (I do grow herbs some years...) I can walk to the virtually any kind of store I need, and more than one farmers market -- others are accessible via public transit. In fact, I rarely need to use my car in the city. I lived five of my teenaged years in a rural, small town setting... and associate that life, not city life, with too much driving, racial intolerance and crime. By comparison, for me, my city life is idyllic. (But the air is grimier in the city and it's hard to see stars... I'll give the country winning points there. :-)

L.A. Mitchell said...

Sue...I don't think the person I was fifteen years ago would walk out of the theater with the same reaction, either. Maybe it stems from frustrations one just can't understand until maturity and heavy responsibilities set in. true. For some, it takes more effort to find the good.

Kim...I agree. Sadly, we cannot always appreciate the important things until we fear their loss. is so ingrained in who we are. We either absorb it or fight it.

Todd...long time no see :) I'd hoped you were well.

walking man...I know you're right--that this climate will be self-perpetuating. Maybe true change can only come from cynicism and the desire to make things better. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

Maureen...while I haven't been to *your* big city, I did visit Vancouver and it really struck me how much like a European city it was. Made for pedestrians, small streets, etc. Contrast that to the Dallas you experienced here. It's like a cowboy saddled up with his knees spread wide. I could drive almost ninety minutes and still not make it out of the metroplex, which makes us all close to almost nothing.

Everyone who goes to see Gran Torino, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Be sure to come back and post them here.