Monthly Archives: November 2011

Shy

It’s hard not to be fascinated by extremely confident people.

Mostly, they’re celebrities, which is why they’re celebrities.

If you knew them on a personal basis they would make you feel sick with inadequacy, which is a weird psychological phenomenon because the relationship between someone’s belief in themselves and one’s own isn’t inversely proportional.

Even though the next person who conquers cliche mountain with the words ‘in these uncertain times’ deserves to be bludgeoned decisively, you can’t help but notice there are less shoulder-padded, big-haired Alexis Carringtons around these days.

The crop-clutching anxiety of Julie Andrews before ‘I have confidence in me’ (only she doesn’t) may have yielded to ‘I’ve got a secret’ Katie Holmes smirks (hubby’s is better) but great big ballsy showing-off seems inappropriate, when there are so many different ways smiles can be wiped off faces- wait, what are they even doing on there in the first place?

A British trait it may not be, but if Helen Mirren gets locked in a lavatory with Kate Winslet at a Christmas party, there’s only one of them the nation will be feeding cheese straws back to through the gaps.

I can’t really be bothered to read the interviews of entertainers any more, wanging on about how blessed they are or how much they love their exceptional or deliberately non-exceptional pets but last week I flicked the pages of two and it’s solely because they’ve spotted a giant self-love gap in the market.

The only things anyone knows about Nancy dell’Olio is that she was on Strictly Dancing and went out with Sven but no-one can get enough of her because she keeps telling them they can’t get enough of her: ‘No, you can’t leave the bedroom. You want me. Look at me. I’m stunning. You’re killing yourself with how stunning I am. Be quiet and take off your socks.’

Lady Gaga too- perma-weaving her own mythology in pantomime suits and being carried onto Grammy red carpets in giant perspex eggs. Never knowingly overheard saying, ‘Who, me?’ but stopped from throwing gossamer-gloved punches at ingrates who don’t genuflect, on a daily basis; making Madonna look like Gollum.

It’s the only thing left that’s shocking or interesting and from which you might want to learn. Interviewers need to strike all the, ‘What do you wear in bed?’ gumpf and extract from the famous the secret of their cock-surety.

Did your fantasticness lead you to believe in your fantasticness or is it your belief in your fantasticness that has made you fantastic? What part of you isn’t fanstastic? Does the level of your general fantasticness make the non-fantastic part really venal and miserable and almost capable of murder? Do you fear a back-lash for spreading the word of your fantasticness? Or do you just believe in it so whole-heartedly that nothing could de-fantasticate you?

Only now do I realise my soft spot for J-Lo is that she doesn’t have any soft spots. I’m more impressed by her chutzpah than by the technology that helped man walk on the moon- a mini portion of which she recently sampled at the American Music Awards.

In fact, so sure am I of her sureness that I’m going to ask her if I can insure her for the event next year because unlike Adele (who couldn’t attend this one due to surgery on her vocal chords) J-Lo would perform dead, with the vocal chord surgeon’s forceps still clamped around her tonsils.

While other 42-year old Moms-of-two were feeling a bit achey and taking to bed with their nagging self-doubts, this one was doing this:

… shortly before performing another number with Wi.Ll.i.am.i.am, picking upĀ  her own award, changing into another hot outfit, going to a club and giving her 24-year-old boyfriend lapdances (plural!)

I couldn’t get that body or that voice or those dance moves but the one thing I admire above all – that is way more in my reach, yet so mind-bendingly way beyond it- is the absolute, 100%, steel-girded belief she has that she won’t tip over on a dancing heel and make a thorough arse out of herself.

Which is, of course, exactly why she doesn’t.

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To Hell and Back

In 2003, a 27 yr old American, Aron Ralston, went to the Blue John Canyon in Utah for a hike, telling no-one where he went.

He fell down a narrow slot, unsettling an 800 lb boulder, which trapped him against the canyon wall by his right arm.

He spent the next 5 days and nights trying, in vain, to free himself before finally breaking the bones in his trapped lower right arm and cutting it off.

There followed a book Between a Rock and A Hard Place (!), a film 127 Hours, various talk shows and a career as an after-dinner speaker.

It is easy to see what so captures the imagination about this- a tale of foolhardiness, accident, loneliness, desperation, fear, strength, courage and survival, wrapped up in the skin of a not-unattractive, white, middle class male now sporting a dramatic mechanical hand.

The horror has universal relevance because- unlike tales of societal or racial oppression, acts of war, political kidnappings and the like- a version of it could happen to anyone, given an enormous amount of bad luck (plus a dash of the arrogance of youth).

And what captures the imagination of mainstream society racks up dollars for an entertainment industry sustained by marrying good stories to wide audiences.

But there’s a problem with misery: it isn’t entertaining. Beauty can spring from pain but pain is not itself beautiful.

Danny Boyle shows that he knows this in 127 Hours.

He uses jump-cuts and flash-backs to bring the action-free incident to life and- evocative though the sound and visual effects are- circumvents too much jaw-clenching with a deliberately perky sound-track and imaginary conversational devices.

However, it’s this watchability that makes the film a failure within a greater context.

Because what this story is about- or what matters about this story- is the individual’s gargantuan capacity to overcome adversity.

In illuminating truth, art- in any of its forms- may suggest itself for the job of telling it.

But as the experience of pain is wholly personal and non-transferable, it may fall short: pain’s bleakness lies in its loneliness, in the impossibility of separating oneself from it, in its fear.

How long will the suffering last? Will it get worse? Will it become too much to bear?

Then there are ways that art itself is the antithesis of pain- inessential, distanced from direct experience, sharable, engaging, finite.

So even as we are taught to be positive and look on the bright side, there are times when good old-fashioned dwelling has merit- when it is worthwhile facing discomfort head-on.

Consider- not for 127 hours but for one moment– the reality of a man trapped in a hole of despair, partly of his own making.

Days from the raising of a missing persons alert. Miles from the nearest passer-by. Trapped in an upright position, with hardly any water or food. Entirely at the mercy of fluctuating temperatures.

Hungry, thirsty, alone, afraid, sleep-deprived, delirious and in excruciating pain.

Imagine the unfathomable darkness he must have contemplated.

Yet, pushed to the extremes of experience, he didn’t panic or make poor judgements.

He acknowledged his failings and thought outside of himself, of his family.

He faced the prospect of his death with dignity. He didn’t yield to despair.

He went to Hell.

But he came back.

That he now profits from sharing his story makes simple economic sense; that he took learning from his suffering is the real gift.

Aron Ralston is all of us: unthinking, unlucky, self-centred.

He’s also what we all have the potential to be and that’s nothing less than a hero.

The trials of the human condition can be made palatable by art.

But we must beware that, in the process, its wondrous triumphs are not diminished.

 

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