I’ve had a post trying to form itself in my mind for the last few weeks – since the end of November, actually. That’s when I read the amazing article actress Maria Bello wrote for the New York Times.
I would urge you (vehemently!) to read this if you have not. Basically, she’s writing about her views on romantic partnership, family, parenting, and the limitations that are so often put on these things – and about the choices she’s made to move outside of narrow definitions.
It’s too simple to characterize this as a “coming out” story. (Just read it.) It’s not about discovering some hitherto unacknowledged bi-sexuality. It’s about liberating yourself to love a PERSON, without allowing something like gender to dictate in what manner you love them.
And it’s not just about that particular relationship. It’s about the way Maria Bello has chosen to handle the other significant relationships in her life. She talks about her ex-husband (the father of her son.) She talks about another ex, and about a deep friendship. She talks about her son.
I love this article. I love what she has to say, and I love the fact that she said it in a very public forum, like the New York Times – because in my opinion there’s a glaring, gaping hole in public discourse when it comes to how to handle long-term relationships. (Particularly when children are part of the equation.)
I’ve written before about the criticisms (both overt and subtle) that my ex and I have had to deal with (and continue to have to deal with) because we’ve committed to remaining friends post-marriage. It was a pretty much life-altering epiphany to realize that I would have found so much more understanding and support if we despised each other! Or if the marriage had disintegrated due to some “issue” – like somebody cheated on somebody or something. But to end things because we realized we wanted different things from marriage? Because we realized that we were, at the heart of things, simply wrong for each other? Not so acceptable.
And then there’s what we did with that: We decided that we wanted our kids to grow up understanding that, though maybe relationships don’t pan out the way you thought they would or the way you wanted them to, there can always be kindness. There can even be happiness and contentment to be had in allowing things to take their natural course. Sometimes relationships simply change. Maybe what you thought somebody would be to you was simply wrong. Or maybe not wrong…but only right in that particular way for a certain period of time.
In the context of a marriage (mine, say), perhaps that means you come together and try to build something – but then your realize that what you’ve constructed isn’t what you thought, and that it can’t sustain. Does it follow that you have to demolish the building then? That’s what conventional wisdom expects and wants to dictate. And if you dare to say that, no actually, we’re not doing that? We’re not razing anything. We’re actually going to take this thing we’ve worked so hard on and, say, add some crazy architectural elements. We’re going to make something new and different and beautiful out of it and change the landscape.
You would think perhaps that would be something to be applauded…wouldn’t you? What makes a demolition site superior in any way to a beautiful piece of architecture? And, if not applauded, at least looked at with interest.
But that’s not the way it works (at least, not in my experience. And I don’t believe I’m unique.) It’s much more likely that people will look at the “new architecture” and see only the things that make it different from other structures. And the response is not to be intrigued – it’s to be offended by the difference (it doesn’t fit in to the established landscape.) Or to feel threatened by it.
Why is it so important to so many people to stick other people into boxes? And why, when someone chooses to question the validity of the box and move in another direction, does that justify (for SO many people) criticism and judgement?
These are ongoing questions for me.
So I’ve had this Maria Bello article in my head now, floating around, for a few weeks. I’ve felt like I wanted to say something about it, that I wanted to record it here in my blog in some fashion. I really want this space to function as a record (as I say in my tagline) of the things that stick in my head (preoccupy me for whatever reason) and/or get me thinking. This article is both of those things.
But beyond “THIS IS GREAT! EVERYONE SHOULD READ THIS!”, I haven’t been able to formulate what exactly I want to say about it. I’ve been a little frustrated by that.
It’s times like this when I really realize my limitations as a writer – because when I FEEL things most deeply, that’s when language starts to fail me.
So, it’s been a few weeks and I (obviously) haven’t written anything about the article yet.
But I’m taking a stab at it finally today – and that’s because I, by chance, viewed two videos yesterday that both unexpectedly made me think about the article. I think they’re pointing me in the direction of where I want to go in regard to the article: ‘where I want to go’ being, essentially, finding a way to distill in actual comprehensible English what I found so powerful about that piece.
I should note that I’m working through the challenge of not being able to elucidate what exactly it is that I want to say by basically freewriting this post – which isn’t something I normally do (at least, not to this degree.)
It feels right for this though. I want to allow myself to feel my way through. I think it’s important to do that sometimes in writing – to give yourself the space to allow your ideas to flow unimpeded.
Of course, publishing that sort of flow to a blog can make for a rather convoluted read! If you’re reading this, it’s because I deemed the final product not TOO convoluted to be readable. But this post is definitely a personal writing experiment for me – so just be forewarned!!!
I don’t click on video links much. I’m too impatient. Just give me the text so that I can skim it!
But I found myself yesterday with a free half hour and nothing pressing to fill it (a rare occurrence!)
I had just posted a blog (this one, about my unexpected [on a couple of counts] experience at Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo’s Zoo Lights event), and so I started poking around a little bit online. I eventually meandered my way over to Twitter, where I killed a few minutes in scanning for interesting tidbits to read.
And BrainPickings (which I LOVE by the way) had a tweet that read, “If you watch one thing today, make it this – it might just change the way you understand life, yours and others.” And there was a link to a video.
Now these are strong words – and even if I was busy I would probably have clicked on that video, coming as it was with such a recommendation from that particular source (BrainPickings is one place that I’ve come to trust to a degree; if they vouch for something’s interestingness….it’s almost always because it really is!) But as it happens I wasn’t busy at all – and so I watched the video.
(It’s under four minutes long…and very worth a watch!)
I finished that video thinking about the assumptions we make about each other and about the ways we expect (and demand) other people to act – and about how limiting that is, to both parties. Clearly the person being shoved or shamed into a box is suffering greatly. But, as Dustin Hoffman points out, what kinds of amazing connections are we missing out on when we lock our minds down tight and refuse to allow ourselves to experience something – simply because it’s packaged differently than we had expected (or been taught was acceptable)?
This of course links in pretty tightly with the Maria Bello article.
With these thoughts swirling around, I went back to Twitter – and I saw this tweet from actor/musician Jared Leto: “What makes art + acting really exciting is you get a chance to learn about other people + stretch + push yourself.” And there was a video link with that too.
I follow Jared Leto on Twitter because he tweets really great art links – but he tweets about all kinds of other things too. I’m kind of intrigued by the way he uses Twitter; it’s interesting to see how he meshes all of his different interests together. And so I usually read his tweets (actually, since I watched “Artifact” the other night, I make a point to read his tweets…because I don’t want to miss any info that will flesh out some of my lingering questions regarding that!)
Anyway, I’m no Jared-Leto-tweet-expert or something – but I’ve read enough of his tweets to think that the one I copied above sounded a little different from what he normally writes. Different enough to make me click on the video link to see what inspired it.
And when I did that, I walked right into another connection to the Maria Bello article.
Here’s the link. It’s under four minutes long and is interesting – but the part that really struck me in regard to what I’m discussing here started at about 1:40 – when he was talking about the reactions he got walking around a Whole Foods while in character (he was playing a transgendered woman for the movie Dallas Buyers Club).
[Edit: Jared Leto just posted these pics to Twitter (12/20/13). This looks like a Whole Foods to me…so I’m guessing this is a visual of this day he was describing in the interview]
This was humbling to think about.
I mean, not to negate the stress I’ve had in the last few years, trying to carve out a path that is (in the eyes of many people I and my ex know) unconventional. To be judged isn’t pleasant. To be (willfully) misunderstood isn’t either. To be looked at askance because of the environment you’re bringing up your children in (because, you know, a friendly, platonic post-marriage relationship, where my ex and I privilege being there for the kids and creating a happy&safe home for them over setting up distinctly separate lives – that’s going to just MESS UP THE KIDS) isn’t pleasant either. I don’t think I’m some kind of whiny baby to find these things a struggle…to feel stress in dealing with them.
But there’s struggle and stress….and then there’s struggle and stress.
I’ve found it uncomfortable enough, having to explain my irregular post-marriage situation to people who raise their eyebrows. It’s annoying and it makes me feel awkward and I’ve had to train myself not to care about what other people think so much.
But what if all it took was walking through a grocery store to bring that kind of uncomfortable judgement upon myself? And more, derision? How do people find the fortitude to deal with things like that?
And why should they have to?? Why can’t people be judged by how kind they are and how bright they make other people’s lives? Or by how interesting their ideas are perhaps, and by how fluid their thinking is. Aren’t those worthier standards than judging by how well somebody fits a box that isn’t even of their own design?
[To interject: I’m thinking now of a really excellent article that I read recently that speaks to the cultural tendency to “other” people (whether “other” refers to atheists, feminists, vegans, or anybody else who is operating in some fashion outside of the mainstream.) It’s really worth reading.]
And I think I know suddenly why it is that I can’t find anything really solid and smart and insightful to say in regard to Maria Bello’s article. I think maybe it might be because the message of her article is at heart a very, very simple one. Powerful and so very important – but simple.
And I think maybe that any comment I could come up with would just be cluttering up that simple and beautiful message.
This is what it’s about (for me at least.) This is the essence of what I take from that article. It’s just two things, really:
1) Value people for who they are and how they treat others, not for how adept they are at conforming to some cultural standard.
2) Be brave enough to speak (and live) your own truth.
There are many things that make this article a worthwhile (very worthwhile) read. But for me, it boils down to these two themes.
I think (I HOPE, at least) that I’ve become better at living #1 in the last few years. But I see that I still have a lot of work to do on #2.
I mean, maybe I’m living my own personal truth these days – to a degree. I’m operating my life and raising my kids according to my own beliefs about what’s important. But speaking? That one remains challenging for me. It’s not a huge issue when my “speaking” comes via writing (like when I blog here). But in direct interactions – like, when I’m talking to people and actually looking at those raised eyebrows? That’s another story. That needs work.
This is the time of year when I can’t help evaluating myself and where I am in my life. And I think about where I want to go and what it will take to get there – and it’s from there that my New Year’s resolutions tend to take their root. I’m not a “I want to lose 20 pounds!” kind of resolution person. Mine tend to be a little less cut and dry…and I really try to take them seriously.
So, I’m still formulating this year’s resolution – but I’m realizing, writing this, that it’s going to have something to do with bravery and something to do with speaking with clarity.
And I’m feeling so much inspiration from Maria Bello’s article (from the video links in their ways too) – and I think that’s so valuable. So maybe it’s going to have something to do with celebrating inspiration too.
So this blog post, maybe, is at base a little bit of a beginning on all of that.
And maybe reading that article was, for me, one of those moments that you look back on and realize that they helped you advance yourself forward.
And that’s important.