Rivkah Writes…

June 28, 2009

Thrill Seeker

Growing up, I never paid much attention to Michael Jackson, although we were practically contemporaries. I always enjoyed his music – could anyone not move irrepressibly to the rhythm of his songs? – yet the paraphernalia of his idiosyncrasies never occupied center stage of my mind. I was too busy dealing with my own burgeoning angst, seeking an elusive perfection – in appearance, in accomplishments – that dog me to this day. Watching the retrospectives of the last few days, though, including videos of the hits I had (believe it or not) never seen before, I am struck by the fact that in our pursuit of perfection, Michael and I ran on parallel trajectories. The difference is, I’m still in hot pursuit, while Michael’s run out of time. And before anyone gets bent out of shape, of course I’m not putting myself in the same category as this musical legend. It’s not my talent I’m equating with Michael’s, just his thrill-seeking striving for perfection.

For some people, myself included, no joy comes close to that thrill of accomplishment. And that’s all well and good. The problem is not excellence per se, but the pursuit of excellence, which becomes a curse in and of itself. Like many tormented perfectionists, Michael was never content to rest on his laurels, to take a step back, to simply enjoy his accomplishments, because there was always another barrier to conquer, another goal to attain, another “first” to dream up, choreograph, and perform. But what’s a superstar to do once he’s created the best selling album of all time, conquered racial and cultural boundaries, used the cultural signifiers of his day to produce cutting edge iconography and videography, raised tens of millions of dollars for Africa, ripped his shirt, given back, and given his all, over and over again? The burden must have been enormous, unimaginable. And so by the time Michael was in his 30s, he had scaled the summit of his innovative powers and reached the dark side.

Despite his crotch grabbing, hip thrusting, chin jutting postures, Michael was clearly confused about his sexuality. Watch his video for “The Way You Make Me Feel.”*  See how he circles his female prey, hurls his desire at her like a challenge, yet neither touches nor dances with the supposed girl of his dreams. Never fully gown up, Michael took up the Peter Pan persona in earnest, turning his home into a theme park, and playing dubious games with children that had the media up in arms. And, as he slowly transformed himself through layers of surgical artifice, the grotesque result seemed to parody the songs that had brought him fame. Here was the “Man in the Mirror,” turning in horror from the “Thriller” he had spawned. Here was what happened when Michael, in truth, could neither “Stop” nor “Get Enough,” when “Beat It” became the command he used to drive himself to further and further feats of the bizarre until there was no turning back. From the pinnacle of fame Michael had reached the pinnacle of notoriety. What else remained but to bow out, tragically?

I am not and never was in Michael’s league, either professionally or personally. My struggle’s just that of your average OCD personality who, as I’ve said before,** can never cut him- or herself enough slack. Every day, though, my unhealthy tendencies are redeemed by a loving family that give me the kick in the butt I need to stay sane – and alive. It’s a shame no one could do the same for the legendary King of Pop.

 

* “The Way You Make Me Feel,” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEU9Q8NlOiY.

**In “The Dream Lives On: In an Open Letter to Susan Boyle” I wrote:

 “As a fellow masochist, I too make incredible demands of myself, get depressed for inevitably falling short, yet would never dream of imposing such demands on my husband, children, or loved ones. To everyone other than myself, I am kind, patient, encouraging, and tender – yet I cannot be that person for myself.”

Advertisements

June 22, 2009

Twilight Zone

Be warned – this is a “Twilight” movie critique. I wince at the echoing commentary ricocheting off my keyboard as I go about my task: “shoot me now!” “who cares?” and from devotees, “why now?” 

I am sensible to your disquietude; nevertheless I reserve my belated right to speak up on the “Twilight” phenomenon. So bear with me if you will.    

In the past I’ve mentioned my passion for fairy tales – Hogwarts, Narnia, Hobbits, Mordor – oh, and of course, vampire tales. Long before Stephenie Meyer dreamed of crossing over to the dark side, there was Ann Rice, Lestat, and the erotic, sensuous otherworld of the undead.

There’s a special atmosphere created by all classic works of magical fiction, and it is to envelop myself in this atmosphere that I re-read these books and anxiously await their screen debut, hoping this medium does not wreak havoc on my beloved tales. In most instances, my fears go unrealized. The movie versions of “The Lord of the Rings” and the Narnia tales, for example, are as wondrously realized as the original novels. I admit I may have tuned out over that whole Tom-Cruise-Brad-Pitt-“Interview-with-a-Vampire” phase. Still, once my daughter became enamored of the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series, I matched her, book for book, movie for movie. But that’s when the trouble started. Because, while the Harry Potter movies depict a wholly re-imagined world, their setting and characterization as effective on screen as in their original conception, there is one major problem with the “Twilight” movie; its magic does not ring true.

Now don’t get me wrong. The “Twilight” books themselves are terrific.  Meyer brilliantly uses “good” vampires struggling valiantly against innate blood thirst as a metaphor for humanity fighting innate – but unacceptable – impulses. The novels juxtapose mystery and magic with teenage angst, and just enough romance to set the pulse racing. Oh the thrill of the shy, withdrawn maiden chosen by the gorgeous, tortured, demonic hero – oh the delicious constancy and devotion he manages to hold in check for 2½ entire books. Indeed, Meyer renders unconsummated yearning and desire so viscerally, Keats* himself would be proud. And in the movie itself, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart admirably personify Edward and Bella. True, Edward could up the smolder factor a notch, but he is believable as the brooding, conflicted creature determined to transcend his blood lust through devotion to Bella. And Kristen Stewart re-creates Bella’s awkward self-consciousness with wonderful subtlety. I also loved the “bad” vampires – such devilishly sexy characters, their “good” counterparts seem pallid by comparison.

But the movie’s truly fatal flaw lies in its special effects; to be brutally honest, they left me cold. In a crazy way, the movie’s atmosphere is “Twilight”-meets-MTV-while-under-the-influence – almost self-consciously un-magical, using cult appeal and edgy music to inflate scenes as un-sinister as they are unbelievable. Edward’s incredible speed translates into a cartoonish immediacy that comes off as amateurish. Is it just me? Back in the days of yore, was “The Six Million Dollar Man”’s incredible strength interpreted that much more skillfully? Maybe I’m just older and more critical.

Moving right along, what about that horribly unrealistic snarling – was I seriously meant to be frightened by that? By contrast, think of Bilbo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings” begging Frodo to let him hold the ring one last time. Think how the ring’s power turns that benevolent face terrifying in a matter of seconds. What’s a few second of terror within the elfish paradise of Rivendell, right? But that demonic face made my blood run cold.

Oh, and when Edward removes his shirt to reveal why he must hide from the sunlight, his sparkling, waxen-hued torso made me want to laugh rather than empathize with his undead condition. And no, you can’t just write me off as a middle-aged cynic. I mean, when Harry Potter teaches Dumbledore’s Army members the Patronus spell to combat Dementors in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the resulting scenes make me smile with childish pleasure, so clearly I’m not cynical, right? Well then, why does “Twilight” magic make me want to rush for the exit? Because – and here’s the irony – successful fantasy feels real, even when it clearly is not.

So my message to directors filming “New Moon” – the “Twilight” sequel – is this: make magic I can believe in and a world I yearn for…edgy music optional. 

*From “Ode to a Grecian Urn” by John Keats  “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”

June 14, 2009

You Know You’ve Reached an All-Time Low When…

Filed under: Humor,Unemployment — rivkahwrites @ 12:23 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

About 10 weeks ago, I wrote an article called Laid Off: Variations on a Theme, in which I concluded:                           

“…for me, getting laid off is more like lying in wait – I may not be actively employed, but I’m definitely in the game – tensed poised, and ready to spring into action.”

Inspiring, isn’t it? And on good days – or moments – I still feel that way. Nevertheless, I have to confront the fact that since April 5, despite having invested a ridiculous amount of effort, become a self-marketing pro, found fame on the unpaid bloggers circuit, and assumed poster-girl status for the overqualified unemployed, I still haven’t scored a single interview or registered even the faintest stirrings of interest on the job market scene. So please, allow me a moment to wallow.

Thank you. And now, in return for your indulgence, here’s a list to help you determine when you’ve truly hit bottom.

You Know You’ve Reached an All-Time Low When…

  1. Your kid makes more money babysitting than you make blogging
  2. You’re reduced to blogging for the Brooklyn Jewish Examiner at 1 cent a click
  3. You bookmark the “Certify Your Unemployment Benefits” page
  4. Your kid lends you money when you run out of cash
  5. You get an “A” in outplacement but you’re still out of a workplace
  6. You check your blog stats every half hour
  7. You ask your kid for babysitting referrals
  8. You find yourself humming “Suicide Is Painless”
  9. You dream of RSS feeds
  10. Your kid texts you from school to find out how you feel
  11. You find yourself singing “Suicide Is Painless”
  12. You have a meltdown every time the computer crashes
  13. Your non-paying gigs take up more time than your job ever did
  14. Your kid won’t let you watch the Lifetime channel because the movies make you cry
  15. You spend time on “Suicide Is Painless” Discussion Forums
  16. You begin to recognize the neighbors
  17. Your kid starts hiding sharp objects
  18. Your only exercise is walking the line between elation and desperation
  19. You miss the days when networking had something to do with telephones
  20. You stock up on tissues and Extra Strength Tylenol
  21. Your get carpel tunnel syndrome from keying in career info for your umpteenth search engine profile
  22. You give up setting your alarm
  23. You get bored by your own elevator pitch
  24. Your work friends stop calling
  25. You start doodling on your marketing plan
  26. You begin swearing at careerbuilder.com
  27. Your sleeping pills stop working
  28. You stop putting on make-up
  29. You get email alerts about security guard openings
  30. You begin to consider them

June 7, 2009

The Dream Lives on: an Open Letter to Susan Boyle

Filed under: Entertainment,On My Mind — rivkahwrites @ 6:11 pm

Dear Susan,

I am just one of your many fans, one of the many who have felt uplifted watching you perform, one of the many who has cast her vote in the “should she or shouldn’t she?” makeover debate, one of the many who watched your final performance on May 30. What an incredibly tumultuous journey you have traveled over the last few months. After a life spent in relative obscurity, you have gone from overwhelming acclaim, astounding success, and magical moments in the spotlight to…second place. And to you, who have always sought validation, this not-so-perfect outcome seems like the end of the world. As of course it must. Anyone who has fought to be recognized for his or her talent will understand the keen pain and disappointment you must be experiencing. You don’t know me, but I understand what it is to be called a star in the making over and over again – and then to never quite make it. Still, I am here to tell you – that dream you dreamed – it lives on.

Of course, we’re comparing apples to oranges here – at the latest count, I’ve had 1,225 hits on my blog, Rivkah Writes. Which is nice, but clearly, no one’s looked me up 100,000,000 times on YouTube or anywhere else. So by almost all standards out there, you have made it, you are truly a star, a gracious woman, a beautiful person, a devoted daughter, and as Piers Morgan put it best, an inspiration to us all during these tough times.

But Susan, I know you. So I recognize that anything less than winning that contest and performing for Her Majesty at the Royal Variety Performance does not spell success in your eyes. As a fellow masochist, I too make incredible demands of myself, get depressed for inevitably falling short, yet would never dream of imposing such demands on my husband, children, or loved ones. To everyone other than myself, I am kind, patient, encouraging, and tender – yet I cannot be that person for myself.

So Susan, let me put my dysfunctions to good use here – let me be kind to you. Let me hold up a mirror to show you what you have accomplished, and what you still stand to accomplish. Your second-place standing is not the end, but the beginning of the next chapter of “Susan Boyle Superstar.” Think about it. Out of the millions of people out there that voted in Britain’s Got Talent, you came in second – second in the entire country – a magnificent accomplishment in and of itself, and one, I might add, that many runner-ups have parlayed into hugely successful careers. Think of Adam Lambert, runner-up to Kris Allen on this year’s American Idol. Not for one moment does anyone believe that Kris Allen‘s win detracts from Adam’s star-studded prospects. Moreover, Diversity’s accomplishment, while notable, does not overshadow yours. You were not judged runner up to another singer, but to Diversity, a talented, euphoria-provoking dance group whose appeal cleverly dovetails with the ostensible purpose of the Royal Variety Performance: to introduce – well, diversity. But Diversity’s success takes nothing away from yours, because – apples and oranges again – Diversity’s talents are nothing like yours. You exist on polar opposite planes of existence, and can each succeed on your own terms, and in those separate planes.

So Susan, here’s what you need to do: have a good rest. Go on vacation. Take time to process what you’ve been though. Then put one hand on your hip, close the other around a mike, shake that booty, and go back to doing what you do best. Trust me, there will be no shortage of offers to do just that. As for losing the chance to sing before the Queen – my guess is she may request the honor of your presence before you get your second chance. Something tells me she dreamed a dream too – and it looked and sounded a lot more like yours than like Diversity’s. So you hang in there, you hear?

As for me, I’m working on pretending to be someone else. That way I can be kind to myself too.

All the best, Susan –

Rivkah

Blog at WordPress.com.