Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What Now Then

One of the best films of the last ten years was Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia. No question in my mind that this film had such intense emotional resonance for so many people. It was overwhelming for me at the time. I remember it being such an intense experience, feeling as if I related to every one of the characters as they experienced simultaneous, shattering emotional crises.

And in the end, I walked out of the theater in 1999, very silently, until my friend Amy asked me in the car if I was okay, and before I could say "no" I was lost in sobbing that lasted for more than 45 minutes.

To this day I can't really easily describe why this film got to me so much. But I guess that all of the personal dramas coming to a head on the evening in which most of this film's story unfolds, or some key element of each of them, were also bubbling in my own life at the time. And I decided it was time to come apart that night and face all of it. I remember that this evening was a turning point in my life. I let go of a lot of self-destructive behavior because I was just sick and tired of it finally. I realized I had to move on, grow up, take responsibility for myself and put all of it in the past. Today, when I watch this film, the emotional resonance is largely gone, and I just marvel at the artistry, the acting, the photography. The music. Those days feel light years behind me.

There is a wonderful moment in the film that for some reason popped back into my head these many years later, at this moment where my life is at a crossroads. When the character of Linda (played by Julianne Moore) is introduced, we have no idea what she's made of. Her husband is dying in bed of cancer, and she is running about getting her own anti-depressants and anti-anxiety prescriptions filled, adorned with a fur coat in fairly mild Los Angeles weather, and then races to her husband's lawyer's office. She seems sort of like a crazy gold digger at first, and when she raises her dying husband's will, you expect you're about to realize she is a heartless woman, probably high on drugs.

But then she very plainly, tearfully, says she wants to be cut out of the will. She married her husband only for his money, and betrayed him endlessly, but now has become so full of love for him, so pained with regret and agony that he is dying, that she can't cope. "Now I love him," she says. "What now then?"

That question hangs in the air throughout the rest of this heavy film until the climax has been reached, and all the crises come to a head. And Anderson then titles the denouement, quite simply, "So Now Then."

I love this scene not because of the plot behind it -- there is no impending death in my life, nor is there the dilemma she faces -- but because of the huge twist it provides in what you thought you knew about her, and what was really going on. And the coda at the end of the film comes at a time when you are so drained that you are ready to hear almost anything that will wrap up all that has taken place before it.

I've been a little drained for a while now, but I'm well into the denouement of the latest twist of my life. I feel as if I've got one foot on the question, and one foot on the answer, as I sit here in this new world I live in. This new phase of my life. The question is obvious. An answer is inevitable. And in between we find the process by which I navigate this single footstep.

No great dramas, though. No biblical epics. Not a frog in the sky.

To begin, I think the basis of my life going forward is actually quite simple. Quite basic. It is absolutely free of any negative baggage of the past two, or five, or ten years of my life. It's just born of a wisdom I have developed, where my heart and my head both agree for once. And it has little to do with anyone else who is in my life today, or might come into it later.

And that basis is this: I have to really love myself. And I have to make it a lifelong commitment. And I'm happy to report that this love is finally with me. I feel it with great certainty. There are no more questions, no unreasonable fears. No hidden motives. No inner conflicts about who I am, what I'm capable of, and what I should be doing with my life from today forward. No doubts that I am a good person, a loving person. A strong man. A wise person for my age. And someone capable of learning and coping with life in greater measure today than at any other time in my whole life.

This is not a revelation, per se. But just a destination I know I've reached. I know it down to my bones as I write this. I feel like I've let go of all the ways in which I would put myself second against everything else in my life -- my family, my job, my friends, my boyfriends, my husbands. I would be willing to suffer almost any hardship just to hold on to something I was told was too important to lose. I also feel as if I no longer have to live in fear of the unknown. I can define my life now. I can set all the boundaries, be they few or many, not because of my limitations, but because of the fact that I know what is right and what is wrong. I know what is fair and unfair, in very basic terms. I know what is reasonable and unreasonable. And still, I find myself so open minded today compared to the past, so secure in myself today, that I need few rules in life. But they would be fundamental ones. I know what brings happiness, and what brings suffering and misery. I can divide out the parts quite simply.

Most happily, though, I feel the scale has tipped just past the middle line on me being Brazilian. And to be honest, I think nothing has been healthier for me than to start this journey towards becoming Brazilian. I have managed to cast out so many of the last vestiges of my unhappinesses of earlier life as I slowly made the transition inside and out. When I found my center (indeed on 80% of my life that center was found months ago), it was Brazilian. Without a doubt. Some of my posts from one year ago, when I went to visit my family at Thanksgiving, showed that in fairly stark form. I have found such a peace inside me by letting life happen and anticipating less. I have seen the difference between honing my strategic skills in my career, and forever sharpening the swords of overt self-protection in the ordering of my private life. Gone is my American reserve. My heart, my face, my emotions - they are all open now. And I have never felt more "me" before.

So I feel like maybe I haven't got a full "So Now Then" answer. But there is a foundation for all that it will be and say. I cannot go back on the commitment I have made to myself. This wonderful life I have led is no longer about chasing other people, escaping into false dreams, or clinging to the past whether it be a wonderful past or a painful past. This great life is going to be well cared for. It's not going to be sold off, soiled or abused. But with the right people, those who share the same feelings about themselves, it will be shared to the fullest extent, making it hundreds of times more beautiful, more colorful and passionate, and worth living to the very last breath.

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