Against Finding Your Purpose in Life

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What’s the collective noun for ‘start-ups?’ Is it a glut?

I mean, those borne of a glint in the Founder’s eye that tells you they’ve found their purpose in life.

The ones with Alan Watts videos in their Youtube Favourites, who now know what really makes them tick.

Those catapulted out of bed every morning with the conviction they’ve found out why they were put on this earth: organic mole-hair baskets.

Ideally, work should feel worthwhile and rewarding- can’t argue with that.

But where does it say this has to be THE THING that boils you down into your essence?

The bastard working man’s answer to Jean-Baptiste Grenouille in Perfume?

Why does it have to be our driving force- our elevator pitch to God at the gates of Heaven?:

I AM the delivery of eco-friendly banking solutions / the knitter of artisanal rye-flavoured tea cosies/ the carer of LGBT animals. Trust me, the rest was musak.

Isn’t it occasionally possible to integrate these purposes into life without encumbering them with the need to bring home the bacon?

I’m being Devil’s Avocado, natch, to make a connection between something I keep noticing and something I want.

The first is the preponderance of busy little companies wopping a kooky name on their foreheads, and heading off to the internet with a red handkerchief tied on their stick.

‘About Us’ will tell you more about what gives them a dual personal/professional hard-on, than you feel comfortable knowing.

Not that it’s anything other than passion that makes a service good.

But there seem to be so many companies all getting very aroused about the same thing- with just a tiny tweak.

There’s a gap in the market and a market in the gap, but…

…here’s the second thing…

There’s probably a bigger market in bridging the gap between the market and the gap.

So, on the one hand you’ve got a maelstrom of information, services, gizmos, earnest reasons for being.

And on the other, the people who need, want, respond to them.

The eager start-ups are all wanting a slice of that giving pie.

I can offer what you offer. Only better. And with CEO after my name on LinkedIn, and my dietary preferences in the blurb.

Or curating it:

Look, see. I’ve aggregated your news/ house buying options/ washing machine costs, thereby cutting your time investment, and customizing your experience.

The point is this: What if I don’t know what news I’m interested in, or what kind of house I should live in, or what sort of washing machine would suit me best?

I’m not talking about trawling through Which? Guides and ‘Well, at first when I got the dustbuster home…’ reviews.

But the customizing, time-cutting bit that precedes the customizing time-cutting bit.

I’m talking Advanced Boolean pre-Google Searches.

Most service providers, and their middle-men, work on the assumption that we know what we want; we just need help finding it.

This is fine if you have a blocked drain, or know that you’re a family of 4 who want to stay in Cleethorpes, are who are in need of Wifi in order not to kill each other.

But some of the biggest decisions we make in life end up finger-in-the-air at best; based on stale ideas at worst.

Where to live; where to go on holiday; where to send our kids to school; what sort of alternative health route to pursue.

Or professional: what genre of marketing agency to commission; which wholesale fleece supplier to engage; what steel manufacturer to use.

What EXACTLY is it that we’re TRULY looking for?

The start-up glut is surely out there waiting by their passionate phones to give it to us.

However, in order to connect with the fruits of these passions, we need to know what ours are first.

I fancy more businesses operating on the dating game model, where likes and preferences are probed thoughtfully, and matches suggested.

Not jokey, ‘Which city should you really be living in? Berlin’, after 3 unrelated, multiple-choice questions.

But streamlined, meaningful questionnaires that cross-reference our subconscious desires with millions of variables, and tell us stuff we didn’t even know we should be investigating.

Old skool agent expertise, for the 21st Century.

For example: How do we choose holidays?

1. Pick Sun/ snow, Beach/Pool, Mountains/City

2. Bump into neighbour in the park

3. Cruise Owners Direct for somewhere pet unfriendly

Bang! You’re in France. Again. Bumping into your neighbour…

How about:

Q: What are your favourite moments of a holiday? Are aesthetics important to you? What’s your favourite view in a painting? What brand of chorizo do you like? Do you prefer perky or weird in a restaurant? Give an example. Do you like flying? Flying mice? Characterful churches? Germans? Have you got a gsoh? Are you allergic to English tourists? Flies? Intimate massages? Are you a tight arse? What sum is 1.5 times the amount of money you think you have to spend on accomms? Trinkets? Does tipping annoy you? And the wife? Does tipping annoy her? Does your wife annoy you? (That’s another website: click on this link.)

A: Pulau Seliron. Small town on the north coast of Brunei. Wasn’t in this week-end’s Sunday supplement. Your neighbour’s never heard of it. Plenty of tapas restaurants with trinket boutiques attached. Clientele of German comedians. Now bugger off and cruise Owners Direct.

What am I asking for?

– To discover more about my preferences than I have ever bothered to probe.

– To have the world of information brought to my time-poor, self-knowledge poor, fingertips.

– To marry more of all that stuff out there, with all the stuff I now realise I want.

Full-on risk-assessment, pyschological-profiling, aspiration-hunting, dream-burrowing, passion-sniffing, intelligent questions, to help put as big a bespoke life-is-short-smile as possible on my miserable, high-expectations, greedy little face.

Those are my needs.

Now, whose purpose in life is it to meet them?

 

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The ‘T’ word

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Tourism: it’s a dirty word- especially in the travel industry.

The touch it implies is altogether too light.

Who wants to be seen with a camera, map, and backpack gawping up at the neon of Piccadilly Circus when you can be living in an igloo, learning an Inuit language- ‘like, living a culture from the inside‘?

The traveling appetite of the comfortably-heeled- along with their hunger in entertainment- is in the process of undergoing a marked shift from the passive to the active.

It’s no longer enough to go to the cinema: we want to participate in the screening, and to do so in secret locations.

Your story about that theatre outing is all very charming, but I was bossed around by the actors at mine- and guess which one of us is holding court?

Oh wait, neither, because Joe Schmo on my right, here, was the person around whom the entire play revolved…

The buzzword is EXPERIENCE.

And leading the charge is the authentic sampling of other countries - not glancing up at the Pyramids en route to a plate of egg, ham and chips, but rubbing sand into your body swathed in meticulously-crafted replicas of Ancient Egyptian garments.

It’s about keeping it real in unreal environments, and all well and good; whatever floats your questing, seeking boat.

But how does this relate to the age-old practice of experiencing the peoples of other cultures?

How far do we get to taste them?

We went on a safari in Tanzania over the Christmas period.

As we drove between locations, we often saw the Masai going about their business of herding cattle, or perched by the sides of the roads.

Dressed only in bright Shuka cloths out in the middle of vast fields, in possession of nothing but a stick, the way of life of these semi-nomadic people is about as far from that of the average Londoner as you can get.

We asked our Guide a river of questions: Where do they live? Do the children go to school? What do they eat? Why, who, what? again and again, as each answer piqued further curiosity.

Then, on Day 9, the unfolding of our itinerary: a visit to a Masai Village- a sort of animals-in-the-morning-people-in-the-afternoon-type-affair.

Hmmm.

So, on the one hand, I’d LOVE to do that.

I’d pretty much go into anyone’s home for a nosy; I’m Pinocchio after a lying orgy.

On the other hand, isn’t that a bit intrusive?

This isn’t really about warmth and hospitality, is it?

It’s about a performance in exchange for cash.

It’s about us having money and them not having money, and them having to sell a bit of themselves to our nosiness in order to get it.

Like hawking a ticket to the Sultan of Brunei so he can witness my adorable, dirty children watching crap TV on a Saturday night: ‘My, but I AM feeling grateful for those gold taps now’…

Our Guide, Christopher- a strong-hearted, tell-it-like-it-is man of Masai blood, but not the traditional lifestyle- was reassuring.

Some of the villages, he explained, apply for government permits that allow them to show visitors around. (The permits are a source of revenue, of course, but they also seek to ensure responsible tourism, so that visitors are welcomed respectfully).

The Masai are not financially wealthy, but neither do they need to be, as by living off the land and the cattle they keep, they are almost entirely self-sufficient.

However, they need money if they want secondary education for their children of any sort (schooling is fee-paying throughout Tanzania) and for certain extraneous supplies, like fuel.

Therefore, visits from outsiders are a source of income.

A voluntary donation of $50 per tour is requested up-front, and the craftwork of the women is then offered persuasively for purchase at the end.

It is a transaction, yes, but one considered to be a fair exchange.

This is no Slum Tourism; the people are proud of their way of life and their work.

They are not in poverty; they are happy to share their customs.

Hmmm again, but this from a trusted source, and we weren’t in the market to take along a paparazzi-lens camera.

So we pitched up, sharing the slot with another family staying in our camp, though we remained in our separate groups.

And what a jimbly-jumbly experience of emotions it gave rise to.

We were greeted by a young Masai Warrior on arrival.

He was open, friendly, and on automatic pilot while delivering a script of sorts about the tour: I think he’d done this before.

We made our donation, did masses of humble smiling, and then popped up right in the middle of a traditional singing, dancing and jumping routine, split by gender.

The deep guttural humming and clicking noises of the men; the extraordinary faces of the women (extraordinary to us, that is); the clothing and jewellery and the thousand nuances of a life lived differently, were intoxicating.

I felt honoured, and thrilled, and ridiculous all at the same time: plonk a necklace on the stupid white woman, and watch her beam.

The general atmosphere was celebratory, though I would say more amongst the young men than the women, who came across as ambivalent and unperturbed in contrast to their engaged male counterparts.

The kids were the good-humoured focus of all (young boys are especially prized, as girls = dowries) – an exchange of genuinely joyous connection taking place between them and our hosts.

After this, we were invited inside one of the seasonal homes by our Guide, following a brief overview of the Masai habitations, diet and age-set system.

It was the most basic dwelling (as in, unadorned, non- mod-conned) I’ve encountered: barely 5 foot high inside, with 3 ‘bricks’ burning in the centre, for heat and light; 3 pint-sized compartments for the parents, young children and goats; a ladle and pot hanging on the interior wall.

The simplicity of these homes was remarkable.

An episode of listen and reflect, as opposed to stare and judge, it left me thinking of my duvet and face cream with a mixture of love and self-loathing, calling to mind the ‘perfumed ponce’ line from Withnail and I.

We were then taken to the tiny school hut where the children learn Swahili and English- a little girl springing up to lead the rest of the class in a song for our benefit.

This learned behaviour of pleasing (for money) from one so young was a jarring point, somehow serving to throw an off-colour light on our giving of the colouring pencil gifts we had brought with us from the UK (for the purpose of general present-offering, as we didn’t know about this official visit in advance): we had not been holding the gifts ransom to a display of winning ingratiation.

The final leg of our three quarter hour trot around the village was a vast display of beaded and wooden handicrafts, which our Guide was careful to point out we were NOT obliged to purchase.

We bought 3 small mementos, for which their chief negotiator- a man stationed by the bins working the character of a wheeler-dealer salesman- asked $65 of us- perhaps in a game of ‘who’s exploiting whom?'; we settled on $50.

And then we were off; fond waving and no blood spilt, as my Dad would say- the most unsettling comment coming, surprisingly, from Christopher, who invited the kids to consider how lucky they are.

Though well-meant, and infused with good humour, it imparted to us an uneasy superiority: is an iTouch the path to true richness?

Did we discuss their declining way of life? The poaching of wild animals? FGM? The insidious creep of Western ‘permissiveness’?

No. We passed through their world exuding an odd mixture of appreciation and apology, mindful to capture photos and footage in the open spaces only despite repeated assertions we were welcome to do so without limitation in the intimate ones.

Might the sensitivity of visitors vary?

Yes, as may the guileless nature of the village Guide’s welcome.

I found it fascinating to come into contact with an unfamiliar slice of existence.

I disliked the contrived circumstances under which it came about, but wonder if favouring the bespoke or spontaneous experience is primarily an affectation.

The Masai had found a conduit for their crafts which would spread an appreciation of their culture beyond the confines of their immediate environment, in (part) exchange for a curious family of four crouching in one of their temporary homes.

To the extent that they noticed us, they might have sensed that we are not crass colonials.

For our part, the prejudice of the ‘primitive native’ was a far cry.

The confluence of cultures may serve ultimately to dilute those identities, but where barriers are dropped understanding ensues.

In a world where perceived divisions can get you shot in the streets and at your desk, one could argue that (appropriately-mediated) old-style ‘tourism’ – the type that brings together people who might otherwise consider each other alien- is not necessarily such a dirty word after all.

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Goodbye, Urban Shed

This will be my most boring-ever post (I hope).

I’m going to get away with it because it’ll be tagged under ‘commemorative’ and ‘writing therapy’, and because the hordes aren’t stopping by in their droves for my wisdom anyway.

Silly to get attached to things, but I’m feeling strangely sentimental about getting rid of the car.

A smooth piece of kit is lush, and a ride in someone else’s cracker’s a thrill.

But I’ve never been seduced around a showroom, or put myself in the market to shell out chunky monthly payments for an irresistible nift-rocket; if it displaces from A to B, and struggles to go above the speed limit (thereby curtailing Speed Awareness course compulsory attendances), then job done.

So why can’t I bring myself to scrap the Picasso?

Seven and a half years ago we pitched up at a car dealers in Sussex and ‘chose’ the car.

Which is to say, we stumbled in blindfolded, spun around, and pointed wildly, hoping there were no fridges on the forecourt.

They tried to launch into a cute back-story, but we stopped them with a version of  ‘You had me at hello’, which was the bit when they made the introduction: ‘Or how about this cheap car…’

Nevertheless, it seemed like a lot of money at the time, Mum reminding me only recently that I had cried writing out the cheque- surely an unrecorded level of lameness.

Once home, the Picasso went about under the radar doing its job quietly, which is perhaps what’s imbuing it with this sense of nobility.

Because, really, it defied medical science. It should have perished years ago. When I drove it in last for its M.O.T, the garage guy said, ‘What the hell are you still doing with this hunk of junk?’

There are fond memories of denting the side on a trip to the countryside, and of customizing it with black-smudge parallel lines trying to squeeze out of a Horsham multi-story car-park; the pinging-off of the wing-mirror cruising off-bonk through the bollards before Barnes bridge, the stump to be hence-after lovingly duct-taped by Mum or Dad every time I hurtled South to see them.

Or the punctured tank in Cornwall, necessitating pit-stops on blind hills- a motor-vehicle with a man’s legs sticking out between the back wheels.

… or the dropped exhaust pipe, the caked-on bird poo, tree sap residue, and weird African dust wind thing.

… the jaunty penalty charge photographs captured of the Picasso in a loading bay; turning right on a left-turn only; now zooming freely down the bus-only lane, wind in hair.

… the way it was referred to by its name and mark, like there are some people who seem to need their surnames for the sake of completeness: ‘Auntie Sophie was talking about it in the Citroen Picasso’; ‘Waved at you in the Citroen, but you were jumping a red light’.

And the interior… sweet baby lamb, no excuse: C.Ds, sticker books, gas bills, wetsuits, fishing net, cricket bat, coal pieces, Buzz Lightyear, Haribo wrappers, plastic dinosaurs, the sun-stained re-usable ‘machine not working’ note written in eye-liner on the back of a receipt- all manner of slovenly paraphernalia belonging to a family contributing more than their fair share to the downfall of a civilization, leaving Westfield’s valeting team with an annual look of PTSD on their exhausted, disbelieving faces.

Quietly cranking on regardless. Failing to read C.D’s. Giving false LED messages about servicing requirements. Interior door handle staying in hand rather than on door. The giving-up of the remote locking system.

But faithful, cute as a button, and thief-immune in its sublime undesirability.

So the garage guy’s sold us his ex-wife’s car, and a new low-rent love affair begins. It’s got a special space to put your coffee and water bottle- fairly upmarket.

Meanwhile, Bruno’s incubating shit-car lust: ‘Are second-hand cars better, because you already know they can work?’

Time to breathe deeply, and get onto rewardingrecylcing.co.uk.

R.I.P, Citroen.

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Note To All Users

The written word is premeditated.

You can’t just blurt out nonsensicals, unless you’ve got weird fingers.

In theory, it should say what it means.

Interpretations may differ.

What is left unsaid can also be relevant.

But occasionally, pretty much the entirety of a piece of communication conveys a meaning other than its apparent one.

(Is this a feature particular to the English language, and/ or simply the British polite/ sarcastic/ passive-agressive thing?)

I found a funny example of this in B’s school staff toilet:

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So it’s a small note asking everyone who uses the toilet to leave it in a decent shape.

It’s cute (‘little’ x 2); non-confrontational (!!!); proper (‘most appreciated’, ‘adjacent’); and light-hearted (‘it’s not an ornament!!’)

Only, of course it’s not.

It’s a very non-little message to one singularly demented person (they all know who that is!) who is repeatedly leaving the shithole in a shithole (‘I mean, what the HELL? Can’t they SEE it’s still floating?!), from a group of staff members who have liberally bitched about it in the staffroom and- sorry, but they’re going to have to say something.

It says:

‘DUDE, FFS!’

I resisted the temptation to graffiti it with some light sparks coming off the top loo, an offending beastie rearing its head from the bottom one, and a ‘me again! x’ sign-off, mainly because it has been solicitously laminated by someone who marks homework with a set of (strictly) colour-coded pens.

 

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Mindfulness Course

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Enthused by my Massage Day experience, I recently completed an 8 week Mindfulness Course.

I’m hoping to teach it in schools, which I generally scope out when I’m shouting at the kids.

If you don’t know what Mindfulness is by now, Facebook furnishes daily aphoristic reminders next to pictures of flowers and the Dalai Lama sharing a burger with Russell Brand.

It’s the cultivation of total attention to the here and now, unsullied by the memory of making a tit out of yourself last Saturday night, and your plans to do the same every weekend for the rest of your life.

Naturally, that’s not how our former-monk teacher phrased it. He’d trained at a school that measures the gap in between words, then tasers you for inconsistencies. Even his invitation to leave the building for a coffee break felt like the pathway to a one-hundred year coma.

Every participant comment was welcomed with a congratulations for sharing, no matter how moronic and lacking in any quality whatsoever that might make it a valuable contribution to the public space.

‘I found meditating more effective after eating a bowl of Rice Krispies.’

‘How in Thor’s name is that going to advance the cause of the other human beings here?’ is something he never said.

As always, you (I) can’t resist judging fellow learners and jumping to conclusions that pleasingly activate the story-making area of the brain.

‘Staying with the breath’ invariably meant guessing Jo’s partner’s glad she’s out of the house for an afternoon picking up tips on being less of a psycho. Or wondering if anyone has ever told Kathy her laugh evokes antipathy. Or Tess that what she’s actually doing is having a nervous breakdown and locating the tingling sensation in her toes ain’t going to cover it.

Languorous Steve had an unintentionally funny turn of phrase. I particularly enjoyed the regaling of his new habit of nipping into the loos at work to focus when a colleague is pissing him off, so now they all think he’s crap at his job AND has IBS. Memorably, he also got carried away on a problems analogy that involved the nuking of ants sneaking in through his kitchen door with a glue gun to ‘stop the buggers coming back once and for all’.

At each of the four fortnightly sessions we delved more deeply into the moment, whingeing prodigiously along the way about how difficult/ boring/ fruitless/ annoying it was, no-one voicing the obvious that we were the ones who’d signed up for the privilege.

We heard that minds are essentially naughty, errant children you have to keep calling back, forcing to make eye contact, and encouraging to calm the hell down.

Home practice involved a series of CD’s on which Mr Monk called variously for attention to the body, the breath, sounds, and even thoughts, which many were using as a highly effective sleep tool.

Reporting back on it was an exercise in skilled lying, whereby one took the rule of dividing by a quarter the units of alcohol one consumes in a day in order to render one’s alcoholism palatable to one’s GP, and inverted it.

In other words, purported hours spent meditating were wildly over-calculated for public absorption, though it’s likely the upswell of group emotional anxiety greater than or equal to the week prior, made this fairly suss-able.

(Apart from chilled-out Audrey who, quite frankly, was ruining the beauty of this reflected misery.)

I love courses. I feel all Whoop-Whoop!-TED-motivational about them but this was a slow burner, like figuring out the tiny dots over time to get the big 3-D picture reveal at the end (though I never did get those).

Mindfulness is a life-long muscle you need to flex- an intention to nurture- more like learning the piano than an apple-falling-on-head epiphany.

You are training yourself to see, really see, what might be great; to put space in-between reactions and responses to what might not; to allow more and judge less; to sit with the uncomfortable.

But mostly to frustrate the living fibre out of person B who is losing the plot, as you smooth the creases out of your face with an oleaginous mental mixture of milk and honey.

The last session was a whole morning of meditations, of which my favourite was the Mindfulness of Walking.

A lost scene from Last Year at Marienbad, it featured every participant’s attempt to reconcile an urgency to reach the airy balcony area, with the task of putting one foot in front of the other in silent, slow motion.

In the end, it was the lost souls who’d taken a wrong turn on the way back to ‘Furniture Polishing Techniques’ in Room B who deserved our sympathy the most, destined as they are to spend the rest of their lives with a vague sense of unease, without ever being able to pinpoint why.

Post-course I realised I had been hoping for a game-changing perspective: deliciousness without the cream cake; transcendence pre-Enlightenment; ecstasy without the pill.

Turns out you have to start with the washing up, so I’ve got my Marigolds on for the long-haul.

Though I’d still pay good money to see our gentle monk freak out enough for him to feel just a tiny bit ashamed.

 

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Woody Allen and Art’s exposing risk

The apple of art doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

Ideas may be universal but squeeze them through the sausage-making machine of the artist and they take on a unique shape. That’s the whole point.

This doesn’t mean that the writer has to hold the same views as his/her creations but, when all’s said and done, a sensibility shines through their representation.

It may not be obvious to start with but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll pick up a trail.

Like trying to pen a Valentine’s card in a stranger’s handwriting, or forging the numerical receipts of cab drivers as realistically as possible*, the ‘you’ (or that part of ‘you’ being put to that use) is the common denominator: it can be found. (*I never do this)

When beautiful things come from people with un-beautiful histories, we are posed with a problem. From Wagner to Michael Jackson, we get all morally twisty-pants.

Is it right to hum along in your leisure time to the music created by a Nazi sympathizer? Does it endorse him, or encourage his views by complicity?

More, how COULD something so transcendent come from such a character in the first place? (Fine, maybe not Heal the World; Liberian Girl‘s bloody genius.)

I bet a good consideration of that subject could yield interesting insight, alongside the more obvious stuff about the drive to escape from personal demons, or the demons spawning that very escape, maybe in a redemptive bid.

For now, suffice to say we are no one definition. We are ‘good’ and ‘bad’, or actually neither. We like ice-cream and playing the guitar and making chutney.

Sometimes we need to be judged. But, for me, it must be in relation to that specific charge- otherwise we’d all be in for the chop.

So, Woody Allen.

Woody roused me 5 years ago, with Vicky Cristina Barcelona: http://wp.me/pfnZ7-iO

I love his films because they are about dialogue, relationships, social interaction, trad jazz, intimate restaurants, frolics, humour, apartments with thin corridors, large beds, large lamps, tall book walls, and literary agents.

They’re also about permissiveness, which is why they often lack high drama and have puffy endings. Everything’s OK if you spill it on your therapist: affairs, divorce, cancer. It’s all part of life’s farce- let’s just talk it out and move on to a new marriage.

It’s probably what happens when comedians write feature films without Owen Wilson and a boisterous dog: even if some pretty heavy life shit’s been going on between the opening and closing credits, all’s well that end’s well.

Woody married his ex-wife’s teenage step-daughter. You don’t have to be Columbo to deduce he’s not a granny grabber. It doesn’t mean he’s a paedophile either, though the allegations are there.

When I watched Manhattan again recently, some elements popped up- the interpretation of some elements popped up, it’s fairer to say.

So we’ve got four characters. Woody is Isaac (although really he’s Woody) and he’s in a jumble because he’s dating a 17 year old ‘kid’, Tracy.

Isaac spends the entire film telling his friend Yale, Yale’s wife, his soon-to-be replacement lover Mary and Tracy herself, that the relationship isn’t right because she’s just a child.

He is reassured by them all that it’s OK; she’s a legitimate date, there-there, don’t worry, you’re not doing anything wrong.

Tracy is played by gentle Mariel Hemingway but a broom might have filled the role satisfactorily.

She has no opinions, apart from to say that she’s old enough to have opinions. She has no wit, no voice, no discernible personality. She’s a stooge for his self-revelatory stand-up. She is talked at by Isaac, who tells her on a loop that she shouldn’t really be sleeping with him.

Meanwhile Yale, his friend, is the handsome man Woody would like to be deep-down (Isaac’s his best shot at being who he is). Yale introduces Isaac to his mistress Mary, Diane Keaton.

Now, Mary is a real woman. She has outspoken views and says funny stuff and, at first, Isaac’s not at all sure about this 3-D female proposition that’s going on.

However, she’s attractive and tells Yale she finds Isaac attractive. Plus she slips past the post because she’s also emotionally screwy so Woody- sorry Isaac- can relate.

Isaac leaves the ‘kid’ Tracy. He breaks up with her like you’d break up with a broom: ‘I’m breaking up with you, Broom. Don’t be sad.’

He says she needs to go to London to Drama School because she’s wasting her time on a 42 year-old man like him and should see life. Tracy is heartbroken and later we learn Isaac ignores her phone-calls. He’s got a new gal; it becomes Tracy Who?

So Isaac and Mary have a crack at a grown-up relationship. They go to galleries and on walks and discuss things, like people born within a quarter of a century of each other might.

Mary talks incessantly about her incredible former husband, Jeremiah, and Isaac is disconcerted until they bump into him and he’s a runt who makes Isaac look like Brad Pitt.

There’s hope for Isaac, it seems. Allure comes in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to be a Yale to hook a Mary.

Only, do you?

Isaac’s happy. Yes, his beautiful ex-wife Jill (Meryl Streep, or Meryl Streep’s long blond hair with Meryl attached) has left him for another woman but that’s OK because it suggests that sexuality has a spectrum and is fluid (contentious this, but who knows where else this sort of acceptable fluidity might trickle into?)

He’s got a smart, successful journalist who’s crazy about him and all’s good.

Turns out the smart journalist is still in love with handsome Yale. He’s going to ride the alimony pony and shack up with Mary.

So where does this leave Isaac? Will he be devastated? Will he have a breakdown and take time to recover until one day down the line, mature love finds him again?

Or, will he lie on the sofa thinking about his book and suddenly be caught in the grip of Tracy’s ‘pretty face’?

Will he jump up and run all the way to the girl he hasn’t thought twice about since he sent her back to the broom cupboard in order to have a go at being an adult, and interrupt her on the very day of her departure for London, asking her not to go?

Tracy (now 18, thus MORE than respectable) tells him he’s being unreasonable. She extracts from him an empty declaration of love and reminds him he left her in the lurch and subsequently ignored her, then points out that everything is set up for her new adventure and her parents are awaiting her arrival. And that if their love is true, 6 months is not so long to hold out for her and allow her this freedom.

Isaac’s response?

He wants her. He needs her. He doesn’t want that thing he likes about her to change (her innocence). Don’t go. Mememememememememememememe. Quiet, stompy feet. Puppy face.

Isaac, the child. Woody, the child. Throwing himself at the mercy of the child.

So I’ve built a sort of case but I’m going to stop short of a conclusion; one plus one equals two but it can also make eleven.

Art may expose but what exactly? What exactly?

Manhattan ends with Isaac mid-plea and we don’t know if Tracy will stay or go.

As with most Allen films, the journey- not the destination- is the point. I’ll do the same here.

If you believe one’s duty is to take a moral stance, it’s a cop-out.

If you’re happy to muse, you’ll accept the open ending.

 

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Scarlett and the Alien metaphor

Film Review Under the Skin

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aliens aren’t interesting.

They embarrass us, by exposing the limitations of our imagination.

Because we can only define by what we know, the best we come up with is that they’ve got pointy heads and maybe, like, one weird central eye.

What they can do is help us to re-appraise ourselves.

Now let’s think: in whose body might they do this, such that we’ll be more inclined to pay attention?

What about- ooh, I don’t know- say, Scarlett Johansson’s?

Under The Skin is pure atmospheric cinema (probably better consumed after a floatation tank session than ‘two-fer’ doughballs at Pizza Express, to be fair).

It’s sensory, evocative, elusive, and might just be the answer to Jonathan Glazer’s brain tickler as to how he can spend 3 weeks legitimately holed up with Hollywood’s sexiest starlet without having to make gooseberry jam with a hot leading male in tow.

So what behaviours come to us fresh when filtered through alien eyes?

A surprising number, thanks to the emotional dissonance of this strange creature, experienced as a result of its inhabiting of flesh.

The moment it curiously examines Scarlett’s human face at the close of the film is a crystallization of its painful effort to become a socialized animal on planet earth.

This question of empathy is central to the film, to the human condition.

We wince when it’s lacking (the little boy left on the beach); we relate with sensitivity to the craving to be loved, when it is simulated for ulterior motives (the deformed man); we feel the purity of kindness (the man on the bus), of beauty (the man giving her a tour of the castle); of love’s physical expression (the two of them in bed), when it’s experienced for real.

The cutest part is, it’s even evoked in us on behalf of the creature itself when the tables are eventually turned. We just can’t help ourselves.

When the chips are down, compassion is what separates us from computers, and we could all benefit from pondering that with a cafe creme and a bottle of Bud.

Also trundling into view, is the gulf between experience and interpretation.

Scarlett spends 3/4 of the film silently apprehending, as you would if you had no idea why a group of girly slags were escorting you to a night club.

It’s boring and frustrating for the audience.

Why?

Because we want to interpret- for it to mean something.

We’re not used to Directors asking us to listen to windscreen wipers unless the wipers are about to break, or clearing the view for a shot of Adam Sandler mugging for the camera in a Hawaiian shirt.

And we’re not used to doing this in life either. We need a purpose; we want a story.

The fact is, of course, we learn a whole lot more when we experience stuff just as it is.

Conversely, we also do things with little thought at all- like eating black forest gateau, for example.

It’s sweet and it tastes good. So shovel it down! Go on- heart attacks be damned!

Do it slowly and thoughtfully like your wee alien here, meanwhile, and you might come to realise it’s not good for you; it’s going to make you sick.

At a more vital level, we’re presented with the linear, almost childish sex drive of (some) men: ‘You’re pretty. Let’s fuck.’

For these male Scottish victims, it is their carnal instinct that propels them forward. They walk into their fate, literally: upright, full-frontal.

And it’s not ugly.

It’s honest and uncomplicated. It seeks to be sated- nothing more, nothing less.

(Mostly, it takes more than a compliment on her hands to bed a woman: why?)

Aliens are a metaphor for the ‘other’.

They are the foreigners we might fear, the strangers we avoid.

They do more than hold a mirror up to us.

They challenge us to say if we like what we see.

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