Doodad Kind of Town

Mostly Off Topic: Fear of 50 (and a few words about "Antichrist")
November 21, 2009, 6:00 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

If you think this Doodad Kind of Town has been more like a Ghost Town this year, you’re not wrong.

In its two-and-a-half year history, this blog has been on hiatus more often than Joan Rivers has been in a plastic surgeon’s office. But the dead spaces have been longer and more frequent in 2009.

I’ve chalked this up to work stress and overtime, but really, it’s more than that.

My fiftieth birthday is now less than six weeks away, and as it grows ever nearer, I get increasingly introspective and gloomy. I divide my precious moments of spare time between competing in Bejewelled Blitz tournaments with old college friends on Facebook and meditating depressively on the question “What have I done with my life?” Which is generally accompanied by thoughts like “My body is falling apart!” or “I’m too immature to be this old!”

On the subject of falling apart:

I’ve never been what you’d call athletic (as my high school gym teacher and the girls who always picked me last for their volleyball teams would attest.) But in my forties, I became something of a gym rat. I dropped forty pounds while embracing the endorphin-producing pleasures of the treadmill and the elliptical trainer, and savoring the appearance of defined abdominal muscles that resulted from the hours logged in Pilates classes.

And then, a few months before my 49th birthday, I pulled a hamstring. I pulled it real good. And it didn’t heal properly. Eventually, the muscle got so contracted that it pulled my lower spine out of alignment. And so on the Sunday before Christmas 2008, I awoke to find my back in such painful spasms that I literally couldn’t get out of bed.

That was the beginning of a long, slow, painful discovery that everything I’d taken for granted about my body – its abilities to withstand injury, stress, or lack of sleep; its tendency to regain a pleasing shape and size after a period of sloth and overeating with just a week or two of fewer carbs and more treadmill time – was forever gone. Even after weeks of muscle relaxers, pain pills, physical therapy, and daily exercises, I was still hobbling though life. Formerly minor, mindless actions like cleaning the cat box or picking up a fork I’d dropped on the floor became drawn out, carefully choreographed maneuvers in which I clutched furniture for support and executed awkward deep knee bends to avoid stress on my aching back. I grimaced through my days at work, popping Advil every four hours, and coming home on gloomy winter nights to sit in a recliner equipped with a heating pad and back support pillow – and a ginormous bowl of Hershey’s kisses close at hand. Always something of an emotional eater – and now deprived of my daily endorphin rush at the gym – I now ate chocolate every night to feel better. (And it worked, until my jeans got so tight, I couldn’t zip them up. Eventually I gave in and bought bigger jeans, which I’m still wearing today.)

I think moments like this come to everyone when they hit middle age – that one injury, that nagging physical problem, that day when you take a good look in the mirror and ask “Where the hell did this pot belly come from? – that whup you upside the head with the revelation: “You can no longer neglect your body without consequences.” Over the past year, my back has become the absolute and foolproof measure of how well I’m taking care of myself. If I’m going to regular yoga classes and eating right and getting enough sleep, I feel little-to-no pain. If, however, I’m working late, and getting no exercise for weeks on end, I will experience a day like the one I had two weeks ago: I will have trouble getting out of bed, I will hobble around my house trying to “work the kinks out” of my seriously screwed-up back, and I will finally have to work from home because I will be physically unable to get into my car.

With regard to those other thoughts:

I think it’s also true that everyone in middle-age, no matter how much they’ve accomplished or how great their lives and families are, asks themselves “What have I done with my life?” After all, that’s why the phrase mid-life crisis was invented.

Hell, even 51-year -old Alec Baldwin, in this month’s Elle magazine, bitches and moans about the fact that “I haven’t had a luxe life,” and how he wants to marry a rich woman so he can spend the rest of his life travelling and reading books. (I’m not sure what constitutes a ‘luxe life’ in Baldwin’s world, but I would think that a man with a hit TV show, an apartment on Central Park West and a big house in the Hamptons might be doing a little better than OK. I’m just saying. But I digress.)

As for that other observation – “I’m too immature to be this old!” – that’s a tougher one for me to deal with. The acknowledged milestones of adulthood in our society are getting married and having children, two things I have not done (and, at this point in life, don’t ever expect to.) Sure, I do other adult things like hold down a responsible job, own a home, and so forth. But what I don’t have is a legacy to hand down. And with fifty approaching, the notion of what I’ll leave behind when I go is weighing heavy on my mind.

“Children and art,” wrote Stephen Sondheim, are what we leave behind when we leave this world. I’m not leaving any children behind. What I do hope to do before I die, I realize with greater clarity as each day passes, is to produce some piece of writing that matters, that touches someone and helps them to feel less alone. What form that will take is not in my control. I’m not expecting to produce a masterpiece, or even a best-seller. But I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll accomplish it by being, for example, the 400th person in the blogosphere to weigh in on “Antichrist.”

But, since I brought it up:

I saw “Antichrist” three weeks ago, but I haven’t felt compelled to write a single word about it.

What makes this odd is that it’s a Lars Von Trier film, and I’ve always had lots to say about his work. Every other Von Trier film I’ve seen – whether I’ve loved it (“Dogville”) hated it (“Manderlay”) or had mixed feelings (“Dancer in the Dark,” “Breaking the Waves”) – has lingered in memory for days after watching it, giving me plenty to mull over and analyze. And there’s a lot going in “Antichrist,” too, but it was completely out of my system by the next day. I have no desire whatsoever to revisit it.

Then, too, I broke my own cardinal rule of never reading another review until I had written my own. The day after seeing “Antichrist,” I read a lot of reviews. And if you want to read the best and most balanced of them, I would refer you to Andrew O’Hehir’s thoughtful piece on Salon. I’d also refer you to this fine piece from the deceptively titled site Pajiba: Scathing Reviews, Bitchy People. I say the site is deceptively titled, because this review is neither scathing nor bitchy; in fact, it’s remarkably generous and fair-minded. It also contains the single greatest sentence ever written about the bad of boy of Danish cinema: “Von Trier doesn’t push the envelope; he burns down the entire fucking post office, but for what cause, I couldn’t begin to fathom.”

And that about sums it up. I’m not sure whether “Antichist” is meant to be a misogynist screed, a straight-on horror story or a fever dream from Von Trier’s admitted bout of clinical depression. It’s certainly a serious work of art, but it’s a brutal and disturbing one without much in the way of a discernible point. It’s also the only Von Trier film that’s ever made me laugh out loud (when the obviously animatronic talking fox takes a break from chewing on its own entrails to warn Willem Dafoe that “Chaos reigns!”)

If that sounds a little weird, well, that’s the least of it. “Antichrist” has been decried as “arthouse torture porn” and an ‘endurance’ sort of film, along the lines of Pasolini’s “Salo.” In my opinion, it is neither, and I’m a notoriously and excessively squeamish viewer. Its scenes of graphic gore cumulatively account for less than two minutes of the film’s running time, and I only had to avert my eyes for about 20 seconds of that. (Hint: When Charlotte Gainsborough reaches for the scissors, beware of what’s coming.)

I can’t dismiss “Antichrist,” but neither can I recommend it. I will say this though: it’s the most difficult, disturbing and confounding film you’ll see all year.

Meanwhile, as I struggle with getting older, I trust my readers will not mind if I take this blog off-topic occasionally to delve into more personal issues. I feel a change is in the wind here, but I don’t have a clear picture of where this blog is headed just yet.

Stay tuned…


7 Comments so far
Leave a comment

First of all, I'm thrilled that you're back, Patty. I check in every day (without fail) just to see what you've got cooked up.Your thoughts on ANTICHRIST are rather intriguing. It's been in my city for a week now. I loved both DOGVILLE and BREAKING THE WAVES. I think Lars just lives to shake up the ol plantation. As someone who also enjoys pushing the envelope and being a provocateur (both on the net and off), I am a rather big admirer of his. But I wasn't planning to see this. I strongly suspect it may not be my thing. But I'm happy that you decided to write about it. If I respect someone's opinion and dig their style, then I always want to have some idea of their impressions. Doesn't matter whether we agree or disagree. Different perspectives are definitely worthwhile.As for the other…Life is a work in progress. I don't think anyone ever stops reflecting, considering or wondering. There are only 24 hours in the day. You may as well be the best person you can, do whatever you need to achieve your goals – and then shut your eyes and jump. You can only control your own personal choices anyway. The rest is out of your hands. Health problems are a bitch. I hope your back settles down. I think it's very normal to become more introspective around a milestone birthday. Fifty is not a big deal in this culture any more. Patty, you could still marry and be deliriously happy. If your time runs out for kids, you can always adopt. Those options are open to you FOREVER. But you may find that you prefer being single anyway. I comprehend and relate totally even though I'm in my twenties. I'm not going to be a parent. That was a personal choice that I made at 14. Now (due to the wonders of medical treatment) I can no longer have children anyway. I'M FREE…AND IT'S BLISSFUL.No more nights sweating it out hoping that the dreaded god damn baby fairy isn't going to strike. I was never cut out for any of that jazz anyway. Marriage…? Well, who knows? If I come across the right man, I wouldn't say no. NOT AT ALL. Just remember. I have a birthday the week before yours. I re-evaluate annually. It's awesome to have a birthday at Christmastime. It's also an opportune juncture (as it is the end of the year) to look back on what you've done, where you are and where you hope to be. You still have a lot of time to do great things, get whatever you want and accomplish what you set out to do. You have endless amounts of potential. Not to worry. My mama will have a chat with the man upstairs. I'll get some strings pulled for you. I think she'd be very supportive. I just have that feeling…

Comment by Miranda Wilding

I still haven't gotten around to writing at length about ANTI-CHRIST Pat, as I think I'm deliberately procrastinating. I saw it at a very tragic time in my life, and perhaps I'll never forget that. Still, it's some kind of a masterpieces, and for me it's one of the year's best films. DANCER IN THE DARK and DOGVILLE were the #1 films of their respective years for me.But the issue of 50, well, as you know I was there not so long ago, and it's surely a trying time, that again focuses on fleeting mortality and the like. Surely it's a time for pause and reflection. I wish you the best always, and glad to see this most welcome return.

Comment by Sam Juliano

Miranda -Lovely to hear from you, as always,and I so appreciate your kind words.To be honest I haven't ruled out marriage (I came pretty close a couple of years ago), but kids are not in the picture. I made peace with that several years ago – I'm too old and too impatient to raise little ones now. Besides, I get a great "kid fix" by hanging out with my niece and nephew, now aged 2 and 6 respectively.As for "Antichrist," I kinda think it won't be your cup of tea. But it you ever do see it, I'd be very interested to hear what you think.

Comment by Pat

Sam -I will agree with that Von Trier is a true artist, and I think we probably agree totally about "Dogville." But, I don't know, I just can't get my mind around "Antichrist" and don't really want to. I've had the same reaction of not being able to get my head around other films on the first viewing (most reently and notably, "A Serious Man"),but the difference is that I actually wanted to see that film again. With "Anitchrist," I really don't think I ever want to sit through it again.

Comment by Pat

Pat – I have nothing to say about Antichrist and a lot to say about the rest of your post. I'm turning 55 next year and have faced and continue to face the physical changes you describe so precisely. I had a long period of sloth that I feel is now at an end, and I have no idea why. I met the hubby when I was 49, and now I have three grandchildren without ever having given birth, so anything can happen. My hobby blog has become something bigger than I ever expected, and now I'm a REAL film critic with all that implies (except money, but I think that might change soon). And 50 was a hard birthday, but 55 will be glorious. I'm planning to show a film from 1955 at a Chicago theatre, "My 55 at 55" party, and you and all my movie friends are invited. More to come. Be glad you're alive and still able to be surprised; it beats the alternative. And buy a really good mattress – that will help with the back (we have a "numbers" bed, best purchase I ever made).

Comment by Marilyn

Well I don't have any wise insights on either 50 or Antichrist, but I enjoyed reading this reflection, Pat. Hope you have a pleasant holiday season ahead of your birthday.

Comment by Daniel Getahun

Marilyn and Daniel,Very belated thanks for your comments (somehow I got behind in my responses.)Marilyn – All that you have shared here gives me great hope. It's been a tough year for me on many fronts – some of which I've shared here, and some which I haven't. I would like to believe my fifties hold a lot of nice surprises. Like you, I'd like to take my 'hobby blog' on to greater things, but first I need to get my life structured so that I have time and energy to write much more frequently.

Comment by Pat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: