Monday, March 23, 2015

sooner or later everybody goes to the zoo

"It's one of those things a person has to do; sometimes a person has to go a very long distance out of his way to come back a short distance correctly" - Edward Albee, The Zoo Story

(Sounds a little like Phil Connors.)

Cameron Frye, to make a journey that is entirely internal, has to spend the day out and about. He's got to make a phony phone call, eat some pancreas, see a Cubs game, spend time at a museum, steal a car and later wreck it. This day Ferris has built is like a failed acupressure exercise--each event corresponds to some portion of Cameron's mind, but ultimately, it comes down to a failure (the odometer) and his own somewhat deliberate property damage to pull him out of his funk. (As I mentioned in passing, yesterday, in the shooting script, Cameron does not kick the car in a fit of rage but does knock the car off the jack, and does the latter on purpose.)

And, wouldn't it be nice if real life worked like that? If depression like Cameron's could be cured in a single day? Take a day for yourself, have some fun, and all is well. The problem is we tend to see depression as something more commonplace, like I had a bad day yesterday, I'm depressed. I do not think that is Cameron's problem. Cameron's got medications, plural, in his bedroom, he's physically sick because he's mentally sick--after he heads off to be with Ferris, notice we never have any reason to think Cameron is physically sick again. It's all in his head. And, I don't mean that in the casual way we throw that term around either. Cameron's life is depressing, sure...

I almost want to separate out the terms, little-d depression for the casual "bad day" kind of shit that we all claim from time to time, big-D Depression for the more serious, chemical depression that while certainly related to the little-d depression, is a much more serious thing. And it cannot be fixed with a day at a baseball game and a museum, or by eating a little pancreas. Not even by seeing Mia Sara change her clothes.

When I started this blog, almost 600 days ago, I might have been Depressed. Don't quote me on that, future, thesis-writing me. Or maybe I was just depressed, or maybe I was just lost, confused. I know life wasn't going how I wanted it to go.

Someone close to me is dealing with big-D Depression of late, and it pains me that there isn't an easy fix. The simple fix for little-d depression is a good day to combat the bad one. But, big-D Depression is not just a singular bad day, or even a series of bad days. It's bigger, it's deeper, it's meaner, it's dark and conniving, wrestling in between the cracks of your mind so that even when there is a good day, there's darkness at the end of the tunnel instead of light; the good day is an anomaly that just goes to prove how fucked up and unwinnable life is. Not that you need to be able to win. But you can certainly feel like you're losing... It may seem like a flippant metaphor, but think about it like this if you can't get your mind around the distinction between little-d depression and big-D Depression: a sports team with a losing record, a bad season that will never recover, can still win a game, can still have a good day. But, then the next game comes, the next day comes, the next battle comes and it's always an uphill battle.

(To mix a whole lot of metaphors.)

Miguel (St. Orberose) blogged about Edward Albee's The Zoo Story back in 2012. His opening, aside from getting into the heart and the meat of Albee's play, evokes the pain of a life lived with mental illness, Depression or otherwise. "Loneliness and the madness of loneliness," he begins.

The meek, enduring reader and the acerbic, pushy suicide. The impossibility of communication between man. The failure of a man to communicate with a dog. The deadly duel for the ownership of a park bench. The story of a man totally unfit for living with human beings. The calculated plan to bring an ordinary man to a state of imbecility. The unfinished story of what happened at the zoo...

Aside from his notion that Jerry's actions are "calculated" that's a pretty good summation of the absurd scene in The Zoo Story. It's all about our inability to communicate with one another--a theme continued in Albee's Homelife (published together with The Zoo Story as At Home at the Zoo) which shows us what was going on with Peter before he heads to the park to read. He and his wife have their own communication problems, and though it seems they are doing pretty well as a couple generally, there are some obvious problems, stemming almost immediately from their inability to communicate what they want. The play begins with Peter reading and Ann comes up behind him:

ANN
We should talk.
(Waits; no reply; turns, exits whence.)

PETER
(After she goes--recognizing he had heard her.)
What? We should--what?
(Louder.)
We should what?!

ANN (Offstage)
What?
(Reentering.)
We should what?

PETER
We should what?

ANN Oh. (Slight pause.) We should talk. (Wipes her hands with the towel.)

It continues, but the point is neither one knows what the other is saying, and Ann doesn't even remember what she wanted to talk about in the first place. They do have a talk, about books, about sex, about their marriage... But it doesn't come from anything deliberate. It just happens.

For a quick comparison, this just happened in Ferris Bueller's Day Off:

FERRIS
You want to get married?

SLOANE
Sure.

She clearly does not take him seriously and certainly doesn't expect his next line.

FERRIS
Today? I'm serious.

SLOANE
I'm not getting married.

FERRIS
Why not?

SLOANE
What do you mean, why not? Think about it.

FERRIS
Well, no. Besides being too young, having no place to live, you feeling a little awkward about being the only cheerleader with a husband, give me one good reason why not?

CAMERON
I'll give you two good reasons why not. My mother and my father. They're married and they hate each other.

And so it goes. That last bit is a key detail when it comes to communication. That's an example of antithesis. What we take as what "married" means runs entirely counter to hating each other. And that is the world in which Cameron lives. As Ferris describes it, Cameron's house is like a museum--"very beautiful and very cold and you're not allowed to touch anything." Cameron, living in that museum, thinks of himself as "bullshit." He explains: "I put up with everything. My old man pushes me around. I never say anything. Well, he's not the problem. I'm the problem."

A sidenote (perhaps): the restaurant where they eat pancreas is called Chez Quis. On the one hand, I've read that it may be a pun on Shakey's, a far more generic, family pizza restaurant chain. But, the French could be translated as "at anyone." Consider the day these three are having. Sightseeing like tourists from the top of the Sears Tower; eating pancreas at a fancy restaurant; cheap seats at the Cubs game; a nice art museum trip (where Cameron gets lost in the a sort of reflection of himself in that little girl in the Seurat painting... I could get into Lacan's mirror stage here, but I won't); and the down-to-earth, common man, German-American Steuben Parade. It's an almost deliberate back-and-forth from one sociocultural personality to another, pushing and pulling Cameron one way and then another until something is knocked loose and he lightens up. It's shallow, Hollywood methodology, but you can see it working along the way. Upon leaving the restaurant, seeing Ferris' father outside, Cameron wants to give up. But, then he has a good time at the baseball game, and a thoughtful, meditative time at the museum and when Ferris is on that float, sure to be caught if anything he did that day would get him caught--

(In the shooting script, Ferris also gets on the radio and says his name on the air, but there's actually just enough anonymity possible on a parade float that he's actually unlikely to get caught over that performance.)

--Cameron is having a nice, normal conversation with Sloane. Sure, they're talking about how they aren't sure where their lives are going, but how many teenagers are sure about where their lives are going. Later, Cameron tells Ferris and Sloane, "I'm gonna miss you guys next year." On the one hand, we could assume he's thinking Ferris will get into college and move away and that will take away his link to Sloane so they won't spend anytime together, but for some reason I assume Cameron does think that he will also get into college; he just doesn't know where that's going to take him, long term.

And, that's normal.

And, it's understandable that teenagers might be depressed, or Depressed. Old enough to have responsibilities and real expectations, but young enough that most of your life choices are restricted by other people.

Sometimes it's not a choice you can make--when you're big-D Depressed, you can feel like no choice you make is fully yours or that it will work out if it is yours--but Cameron says it well--if in Hollywood simplistic language: "I am not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I am going to take a stand. I'm gonna defend it. Right or wrong, I'm gonna defend it."

Hollywood psychology. Simple. Kick a car a few times, raise your voice, then laugh about it.

And, if that doesn't work, maybe the rest of us will not be assholes about it and tell you to just get over it because what do you have to be depressed about?

You don't, necessarily, need a friend like Ferris to drag you out of bed and make you spend the day out and about.

But, it can help.

(And, I didn't even get to Gary Susman's story about how Ferris Bueller's Day Off helped him deal with depression as a teenager with divorcing parents.

Nor did I get back to Jerry and the dog, or what happened at the zoo...

Nor did I point out that there is nothing wrong with going to the zoo, nothing wrong with being Crazy, with being Depressed. It's not a value judgement on you, it's not a character flaw. It just is.

And, if you've got mental health issues with which you have to deal, I wish you luck. And, really, take a day off from time to time. Maybe it won't magically cure what ails you, but it can at least distract you for a little while, give you some time to recharge your batteries and ready for the day-to-day fight.)

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