Thursday, August 14, 2014

listen to them

Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead. – Gene Fowler

Fowler was a journalist, someone who wrote on a regular basis. I don’t know if he considered his output to be art or simply work. Personally, I feel that everything I write, even the most mundane academic piece, is still art. In Art & Fear, Bayles and Orland (1993) begin simply with the following:

Making art is difficult. We leave drawings unfinished and stories unwritten. We do work that does not feel like our own. We repeat ourselves. We stop before we have mastered our materials, or continue on long after their potential is exhausted. (p. 1)

On the first statement, I wholeheartedly agree. Though writing is easy, making art is difficult, though the two things are often (or, I suppose I implied above, always) one and the same. On the second statement, yes, I have left behind many unfinished drawings, many unfinished stories. I have detailed notes for stories I have started and still hope to return to one day, stories I have never even started but hope to find the time for.

The third statement—we do work that does not feel like our own—that one is a strange case. There was this… I guess it would be called an app. There was this app going around Facebook just this week. You paste a sample of your writing into it and it tells you what author your writing resembles, based presumably on choice of phrasing, sentence length, and what have you. I pasted several different stories of mine into it and each one came up with a different author. I cannot speak to the veracity of this app’s claims, of course, but that is not my point. My point is that each of these things, however different they are, however much each one achieved what I set out to achieve when I began it, these things are all still mine. Still a piece of me set loose into the world for others to read

(I am fairly sure I only chose stories that are available on my website, anyway.)

and enjoy, and make of them what they will. What was mine becomes yours. Even this blog entry here; I write it, I put as little or as much effort as I can into it and, in the end, I must let it go, put it out there to be read or, I think, it doesn’t matter so much. Sure, there is room for writing something that I only I will read or building something that I only I will see… I spent hours attempting to build something out of LEGO blocks one day this past year only to find my initial design in my head would not be possible, and I dismantled it. It survives only as a memory and a few design ideas left behind—a few I used in another project this summer.

You may question my equating LEGO building to art, or this blog to art, or academic writing to art even, but my point is not to persuade you to agree with me but simply to put the idea out there, get it into your head and have it become what it will.

What has any of this to do with today’s film—The Sixth Sense—you may ask. Well, I must sidetrack into another film I watched this evening--Dead Poets Society. If you are reading this entry just after it is posted, you are probably well aware Robin Williams killed himself this week. I don’t normally pay much mind or spend much time thinking on the deaths of celebrities. I wrote a series of entries here (1 2 3) back in February when Harold Ramis died, but that was a special case, as I was spending much of my time this past year thinking on Groundhog Day and the ideas that went into and came out of that film. I wrote for many, many days, I wrote about many, many things, and I think there was still more to be said. That blog became this blog, and only on my second week, my second film, I wonder if there will be room for the bigger ideas, or will I have just enough time with each film to write about a few shallow topics and then, by my own guidelines, be forced to move along to another film, all new shallow topics.

The fourth statement in that Bayles and Orland (1993) line above—we repeat ourselves—I do not believe that I repeat myself even when I say the same thing over and over again. I suggested more than once “that I [was] not actually watching the same move every day for this blog. Groundhog Day is actually a slightly different film each time I have it on.” I also was not the same person each of those days, nor am I the same person each day I watched The Ring last week or The Sixth Sense this week. I was not the same person as I watched Dead Poets Society tonight as I was the previous time I watched it, or the first time I watched it, a 13-year-old boy sitting in the dark of the Academy Theater. I am the same. I am not the same. I repeat myself. I do not repeat myself.

Malcolm Crowe’s story is about the end of that cycle, the repetition of life day by day by day. We call it death, but for him it provided one last chance to do something good, to make amends for a previous failure that came back to haunt him. It’s interesting to me in this moment that, in the opening scene, Malcolm, drunk on alcohol and adulation repeats dialogue. “That's one fine frame,” he says. “A fine frame it is.” His wife tells him he sounds like Dr. Seuss when he’s drunk. Also, I think this scene works as a shorthand for the repetition of Malcolm’s life. His work is good, is useful, but confronted with one of his patients, it takes him three guesses to recall who it is. Even the great things he does (or tries to do) blend together over time. Life blends together, day to day.

Was it not a comedy, a strange and stupid thing, this repetition, this course of events in a fateful circle?

That’s Hesse (1951) in Siddhartha. The line appeals to me. And, in a nice bit of coincidence, as I typed it, Cole Sear just said the line, “It’s supposed to be funny.” On my best days, I wonder how life can ever not be good. But, I remember the darkest of my days, when I could hardly imagine life could ever not be bad. I have far more of the former than the latter in my life of late. I am glad for that. I can recall a moment like the following passage, again from Siddhartha, but I am not in that place at present. Far from it, really. But I imagine, perhaps, Robin Williams and others dealing presently with depression, would get this:

Awakening from his dream, he was overwhelmed by a feeling of great sadness. It seemed to him that he had spent his life in a worthless and senseless manner; he retained nothing vital, nothing in any way precious or worthwhile. He stood alone, like a shipwrecked man on the shore.

The final statement in that Bayles and Orland (1993) line above—we stop before we have mastered our materials, or continue on long after their potential is exhausted—there is the rub. I figure we never master our materials. We know them, we know them well, but then we can always know them again, know them anew, from a different angle, at a different time, from a different… us. A different me. And, my optimist side would contend that potential is never exhausted. It can be wasted, redirected, but never exhausted. It’s like energy or mass; it can be transformed into something else, but it cannot be destroyed.

I had intended to write about the Tarot again today, even though there are no cards at all in the Sixth Sense. The pose Malcolm Crowe takes as he bleeds to death on his bed—

—it reminded me of the Hanged Man card:

Biddy Tarot calls this card, “the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. This is the archetype to meditate on to help break old patterns of behaviour and bad habits that restrict you.” I don’t know if Shyamalan intended this connection as Malcolm dies, but I see it. And, given my point above, what matters most is not what Shyamalan intended but what I took from it, what any of us take from it. Biddy Tarot continues:

The Hanged Man reflects a need to suspend action, and as a result, a period of indecision may be indicated. Decisions or actions that need to be implemented will be postponed, even if, at the time, there is a sense of urgency to act.

Malcolm has learned that he failed Vincent Gray in the past. His life and Vincent’s are both at their ends. It will not be until “The Next Fall” that Malcolm will act toward atonement. On the note of Malcolm’s life being a repetition, The Hanged Man “can sometimes reflect that you are feeling stuck or restricted in your life.” And, on the note of each moment being an opportunity to see the world anew—an extension of what I said above—

The reversed position of the man in the Hanged Man indicates the need to look at yourself from an entirely different perspective, while the hanging indicates that your life is simply suspended for a time in order for you to recognise what needs to be changed in your personality… The Hanged Man asks you to turn your world around and view your situation differently. When you do this, you will find something new that will prove to be of greater value to you on a much deeper level. It may be that you have to sacrifice your previous beliefs or even way of life but it is a time of renewal and your life will go forward.

If Shyamalan did not intend the pose, he got very lucky.

Anyone who knows Tarot cards will, of course, recognize that the pose matches a reversed Hanged Man, “represent[ing] a period when you feel you are sacrificing a lot and getting nothing in return.” Malcolm has just received his award, and his wife insists it is important but Malcolm dismisses it, in an earlier version of the script even suggesting they “should hock it. Buy a CD rack for the bedroom.” Biddy Tarot continues, regarding the reversed Hanged Man:

You may have felt things were at an absolute standstill, with no movement or resolution. It is as though you are suspended in time and unable to make a move forward, backward or even sideways to get out of your current situation.

This is where all of the characters in The Sixth Sense are through most of the film. Anna Crowe is frozen between her love for and grief over her husband and her attraction to the guy at work. Lynn Sear is stuck in her life, working two jobs and stressing over a child who is troubled but who she simply cannot help. Malcolm Crowe is stuck in that moment in which he died, facing the idea of his failure and the emptiness of a life he doesn’t realize is over. And Cole Sear—he is alone in a world where he understands far more than everybody else around him but that understanding scares him and he believes no one will be able to help him, and really, knowledge of what he can do may make all of their lives more difficult just as his ability has already made his mother’s life stressful…

We are all stuck sometimes. And, I’ve been depressed before. Like real diagnosable depression. I know you cannot simply will it away, you cannot simply get unstuck. Nor should any of us suggest to one who is depressed that he should snap out of it. This may seem trite, like my way of suggesting you can snap out of it (contradicting what I just said), but I want to finish with another bit from Biddy Tarot’s description:

The Hanged Man reversed suggests a loss of faith in your ability to surmount life’s obstacles. You may be refusing to go within for spiritual nourishment. It is very important at this time to look within through meditation and restore your faith in your ability to get over life’s challenges. Know that this difficult time will soon pass. Accept your circumstances and be at peace with yourself.

Or to end with lyrics from Blues Traveler’s “Just Wait” or some inspirational bit of poetry or prose that will make the world a better place. I think that’s something I really like about Cole’s story in The Sixth Sense. As he just said, “Some magic’s real.” Cole’s magic allows him to actually make the world a better place. I think we all long for that ability.

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