what he said:

But of all the thoughts which rushed upon my savage and undeveloped little brain at this crisis, the most curious was that I had found a companion and a confidant in myself. There was a secret in this world and it belonged to me and to a somebody who lived in the same body with me. There were two of us, and we could talk with one another … it was a great solace to me to find a sympathizer in my own breast.

Edmund Gosse

“we are creatures of the underworld – we can’t afford to love”

sing to me, Ewan

Last night was our weekly family movie night, and I got to introduce Emma to one of my very favourite films, Moulin Rouge. When this movie first came out (16 years ago?!), I saw it multiple times in the theatres. While I own the DVD, I don’t think I’ve seen it since Emma has been born. It’s been a while, but I still remember pretty much EVERY WORD (and lyric!) of it.

It’s a little bit funny, this feeling inside — particularly when you watch something you’ve loved in past, but now have different eyes to process what you see.

While there’s much about the movie I still love (the songs! the colours! Nicole’s hair!), I don’t think I love it quite as much as I did before. For one, it’s not the classic love story I once considered it to be — now when I watch it, all I see is two jealous men fighting to selfishly possess a dying woman who’s drowning in her emotional labour responsibilities.

Both Christian (the sensitive/dashing beau) and the Duke (the creepy gazillionaire) feel like they are entitled to own Satine. Added to that, she’s also carrying the responsibilities of making sure the Moulin Rouge doesn’t financially fail, which means Zidler (the singsongy fat pimp) also makes a point of controlling her. She’s always in a dance of making these men happy, by meeting their needs — when very few are actually looking out for what she needs (as she’s dying of tuberculosis). The story is hardly the moving and romantic tale I thought it was.

I love the caged-bird metaphors and references that were made throughout the film. And the most moving scene isn’t the final one when she dies in Christian’s arms, but when Satine resigns herself to accept her fate of being trapped:

Last night, after we finished watching the movie, Emma (the wise 10 year old), made a point of saying how much she didn’t like Ewan McGregor’s character: “even though he was in love, he was so jealous! And he should have let her do what she needed to do to help her friends. If he’s going to be so upset, it’s just not going to work out.

I was a little floored how she was able to see through the plot as quickly as she did, and how much of her observations echoed what I was thinking.

As her mama, I’m also proud of my little girl — and I hope she’ll carry this relational savvy with her. Because if she does, she’ll be many steps ahead of her mama.


of ‘odd women’

So, I’m reading again.

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to have the luxury of time and mental energy to dedicate to personal reading. And while much of my interests of late have turned to self-help-y type books, I’m also finding time to read some fiction and biographical books. One such book I picked up last week was The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick.

I’m not sure where this book was first recommended to me — but I’m so happy I took the time to read it. It’s a memoir of Gornick’s life in NYC, and reads like the perfect introvert’s memoir: a combination of people-watching/observing and navel-gazing. There were so many good parts to the book that I found myself having to stop and bookmark! Here’s some of what I decided to read (and reread):

In college, the girls who were my friends were literary. Every one of us identified with either George Eliot’s Dorothea Brooke, who mistakes a pedant for a man of intellect, or with Henry James’s Isabel Archer, who sees the evil-hearted Osmond as a man of cultivation. Those who identified with Dorothea were impressed by her prideful devotion to ‘standards’; those who didn’t thought her a provincial prig. Those who identified with Isabel admired her for the largeness of her emotional ambition; those who didn’t thought her dangerously naive. Either way, my friends and I saw ourselves as potential variations of one or the other. The seriousness of our concerns lay in our preoccupation with these two fictional women.

The problem, both in Middlemarch and Portrait of a Lady, was that of the protagonist — beautiful, intelligent, sensitive — mistaking the wrong man for the right man. As a problem the situation seemed entirely reasonable to all of us … Among us were young women of grace, talent, and good looks attached, or becoming attached, to men dull in mind or spirit who were bound to drag us down. The prospect of such a fate haunted all of us. We each shuddered to think that we might become such women.

Not me, I determined. If I couldn’t find the right man, I swore boldly, I’d do without.

Later on in the book Gornick talks about meeting a man where the relational arraignment was suddenly reversed, and she became “the interesting, conflicted personage and he the intelligent, responsive wife.”

BOOM! How many times, I wonder, have I found myself in that latter role of being the responsive one in a relationship? (answer: ALL my relationships)  For once, *I* want to be the one who takes the role of the interesting, conflicted personage, and NOT the one who’s carrying all the emotional labor of conversations and care taking and relationship maintaining.

As I read on I found out that, for Gornick, the reversal of roles didn’t last long for her in that relationship. She later writes:

It was then that I understood the fairy tale about the princess and the pea. She wasn’t after the prince, she was after the pea. That moment when she feels the pea beneath the twenty mattresses, that is her moment of definition. It is the very meaning of her journey, why she has traveled so far, what she has come to confirm: the unholy dissatisfaction that will keep life permanently at bay.

… We were in thrall to neurotic longing, all of us — Dorothea and Isabel, my mother and I, the fairy-tale princess. Longing was what attracted us, what compelled our deepest attraction. The essence, indeed, of a Chekhovian life.Think of all those Natashas sighing through three long acts for what is not, and can never be. While one (wrong) man after another listens sympathetically to the recital of a dilemma for which there is no solution.

Maybe that’s the gist of why I’m more happy being on my own than in a relationship. This “neurotic longing” of mine for someone who understands me and can meet me where I’m at — to be honest, I don’t think this person exists.

And by being honest enough to admit that, and starting from that point, maybe that’s the healthiest way for me to move forward and grow up and embrace who I’m meant to be.

what she said

Comes the Dawn
by Veronica Shorffstall

After a while you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul,

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning
And company doesn’t mean security,

And you begin to understand that kisses aren’t contracts
And presents aren’t promises.

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head held high and your eyes open,

With the grace of a woman, not the grief of a child.
You learn to build your roads

On today because tomorrow’s ground
Is too uncertain for plans, and futures have

A way of falling down in midflight.
After a while you learn that even sunshine

Burns if you get too much.
So you plant your own garden and decorate

Your own soul, instead of waiting
For someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn that you can really endure,
That you really are strong

And you really do have worth
And you learn and learn … and you learn

With every goodbye you learn.

of boundaries and running away

One of my latest reading kicks has been to learn more about boundaries-setting, in order to start to counteract some of my codependent tendencies.

For long time I’ve been someone who has put her own needs aside in order to “help” someone else. I’m especially bad at this when it comes to intimate relationships. Too often I’m willing to put aside what I want (or need) in order to be there for my partner — and what ultimately results is that I end up feeling resentful and frustrated that there’s no reciprocation in the relationship (when really, if I had set some boundaries and had been clearer about what I needed, so much of it all could be avoided).

Anyway, it’s funny, now everywhere I look I can see shades of codependency. For example, a few weeks ago I re-watched the Julia Roberts film, “Runaway Bride” — only this time, I watched it with eyes that were looking for codependency. And sure enough, I found it.

Roberts’ character is a bride who is known for leaving grooms at the altar — and Richard Gere is a smartass reporter who comes into her town to find out the reasons why she runs. Blah blah blah, romantic comedy hijinks — but there’s some good bits in there that really stood out to me.

For example, in a pivotal scene, Gere points out to Roberts’ character that she doesn’t even know what kind of eggs she likes to eat — because she usually tends to eat her eggs the same way her partner prefers to order them. It sounds small, but that’s a total codependent move. It’s sometimes easier to not assert what you like, and just blend in (chameleon-style) to someone else’s preferences. It feels more “safe” to a codependent to not risk the rejection that could result from someone not accepting what you need/want.

But the one scene that stands out the most to me is this one, that comes at the end of the film. SPOILER: of course Gere’s character asks Roberts to marry him, and ultimately she also leaves him at the altar. At the end of the film, she finds him, months later, and says this:

Maggie Carpenter: I wanted to tell you why I run – sometimes ride – away from things.

Ike Graham: Does it matter?

Maggie Carpenter: I think so.

[takes a deep breath]

Maggie Carpenter: When I was walking down the aisle, I was walking toward somebody who didn’t have any idea who I really was. And it was only half the other person’s fault, because I had done everything to convince him that I was exactly what he wanted. So it was good that I didn’t go through with it because it would have been a lie. But you – you knew the real me.

Ike Graham: Yes, I did.

Maggie Carpenter: I didn’t. And you being the one at the end of the aisle didn’t just fix that. [link]

That part about “someone who didn’t have any idea who I really was” — this line hits me, right in my codependent heart.

While I like to think that I’m this strong, independent, assertive woman who doesn’t take crap — when it comes to being in a relationship, I know I don’t assert my needs or wants nearly enough. I know that I will often (metaphorically) order my eggs in ways I don’t care for, if only so I can — like Maggie Carpenter says, do “everything to convince [my partner] that I was exactly what he wanted.”

Those days are ending for me. Over the next few days/weeks/months, I’m going to solidify what it is I need and want in a relationship, and I’m not going to settle for anything less — even if it means I’m eating eggs (over-medium with hot sauce) on my own for the foreseeable future.

A big part of that journey will be to clarify my boundaries and expectations, and learn how to manage taking care of myself while in relationship with someone else.