Don’t let the title of this post fool you — Anne Hathaway the actress and Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night are two separate things, linked only by the fact that both of them are happening in my life this week.
First, Anne Hathaway: been aware of her for awhile, but she didn’t really show up on the radar until I saw Les Miserables, which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend (though I’m glad I watched until the end, as long as it took to get to the end). Hathaway, as you all know, won the Best Support Actress Oscar last year for her role of Fantine — yes, it’s a showy role, and yes, Susan Boyle sang that song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” on her way to fame. But Hathaway was great and imho deserved the Oscar.
Which led me to look her up on IMDB (Internet Movie Databse) and Netflix, where I rented Rachel Getting Married. She’s not Rachel, who is her sister getting married. Hathaway plays Kym, the black sheep sister who’s spent the past 10 years in and out or rehab, and who comes home for the wedding, where she encounters (surprise!) all sorts of difficulties adjusting to family life.
This story goes back 20 years or so in my life. I had a friend named Michelle, whom I met at a conference. So she was an English teacher — well, a “writing coach,” as she put it. She’d devised a scheme whereby her writing classes were more like training for sports events, where her students were like a team of which she was the coach.
We lived hundred of miles apart, and there was email even back in 1994 (a new-ish thing). But, believe it or not, we wrote paper letters to each other. (Wish I’d kept some; sigh.) By 1997-98, I was heavily into developing computer applications for my English classes, made in software called Asymetrix Multimedia Toolbook — my first one was “How To Read a Poem,” and it took a poem and hyperlinked it abundantly to commentary\explanation. In fact, the husband of one of my colleagues, who was a Sports Physiology professor, saw it and commented that he wished there was a Toolbook explanation app for every poem.
At the time, I was heavily involved with taking my daughter Becca ice skating, which involved a 90-mile trip to Jacksonville 2-3 times a week. Also with developing Toolbooks for all my classes, associate with each writing assignment. I got a sabbatical, and an opportunity arose to go up to New Jersey and work for ADP in Roseland, developing Toolbooks for their HR and Payroll software. Read more
Georges Bataille, the French philosopher\literary theorist\culture critic, wrote that beneath the Superego Economy of gaining, striving, and thriving, there’s a “secret Id Economy” dedicated to waste and loss.
Take the Dada movement in art (if there really is such a thing as the Dada movement). It’s very name tends to infantilize art, and it’s sometimes referred to as “anti-Art”; fair enough, I guess. After all, submitting a urinal bought in a plumbing supply store, as Marcel Duchamp did for the 1914 Dada Exhibition in New York City, is hardly artistic in the usual way. Well yes, he signed and dated it (“R Mutt, 1917”), but he didn’t create it out of his own materials with his own hands — just dropped by a plumbing supply store. Oh yes, he did invert it and call it “Fountain,” and that’s the manifestation of an idea (the idea that water coming out, as in a fountain, is the opposite of urine going in, as in a urinal).
Acting on a recommendation from my good friend Sam, I Netflixed Short Term 12, a little movie from this past year that was completely overlooked in all the Big-Movie Hoo-Hah that’s surrounded the recent Academy Award nominations (following the Golden Globe awards).
It’s about a short-term residential foster facility that cares for its roster foster kids– not sure if I ever figured out why these kids weren’t with regular foster families. Maybe that was tried and didn’t work out. Anyway, the kids in Short Term 12 are all damaged to some degree, as you’d expect.
The main characters are two counselors, Grace and Mason, who are themselves in a relationship (in fact, Grace is pregnant). Mason is played by John Gallagher, Jr., Grace by Brie Larson, and what a surprise I got when I looked at her Internet Movie Data Base (imdb) page. She is listed as having 10 award nominations and 10 wins — I’ve never seen that before. Every award (and they’re small ones, like Austin Film Critics Award), as befits an actress in small movies) led to her winning that award. Unprecedented.
I’m attracted, to be sure, by a certain genre of mystical, overheated Catholic-oriented movies — like today’s subject, Stigmata, but also The Mission, The Third Miracle, The Exorcist.
Stigmata was released in 1999, stars Patricia Arquette and Gabriel Byrne, was directed by Rupert Wainwright, certainly didn’t make box-office millions, but has gained a second life on HBO, video, etc. The poster for the movie luridly takes an image of Patricia Arquette in extremis from the movie (crown of thorns, bloody wrists) and adds the blurb, “The messenger must be silenced.” Well, fair enough, considering the Vatican authorities’ investigation into her case, but on the other hand, “Oh, C’mon.”
The blurb makes the movie out to be yet another opus dei expose of the hollow core of the Roman Catholic church, yet again out to stifle any evidence of the miraculous. And yes, the arc of the movie does follow that line, but that’s not what interests me.
What interests me is Frankie Paige, and her struggles. She lives in New York City, cuts hair, hangs out in rather loud clubs, drinks a lot, goes home with guys she barely knows. In sum, Frankie is in trouble. Early in the movie, she confides to a friend that she might be pregnant, and in the following scene has some kind of fit in the subway — it’s a screaming fit, scares everybody in the car with her, and involves visions of herself being tortured. She ends up in the hospital, with the marks of nails having been driven through her wrists. She’s put on suicide watch, which she objects to: “You think I did this to myself? I’d never do this to myself, I’m a happy person. Ask anyone!” Her doctor also thinks you might have epilepsy and tells her she wasn’t pregnant.
Gabriel Byrne arrives on the scene soon after (we’ve been introduced to him already, in the context of a miracle in Brazil). He’s a scientist\priest, a Vatican investigator whose job is basically to debunk miracles.
You can probably see where this story line is going, more or less has to go. But Byrne’s character, Father Andrew Kiernan, says something interesting early on: “Frankie, the stigmata is manifested in people who are in deep spiritual pain.” And that’s Frankie exactly.
The remainder of the movie works out Frankie’s increasing downward slide, her troubling visions and fits, Fr. Kiernan’s efforts to help her. It all ends pretty explosively, demons and fire, etc. — but one point of the Frankie story seems to be to introduce the Gospel of Thomas, a “sayings gospel” found at Nag Hammadi, the Dead Sea Scroll site. The Gospel of Thomas perhaps predates the Synoptic Gospels and definitely predates the Gospel of John. It consists of no narrative but only sayings attributed to Jesus, including one Frankie is quite taken with transmitting (writing it in an Aramaic dialect on her bedroom wall, speaking it out loud during her fits): “If you remove a stone I will be there; look under a log and you will find me.”
The over-arching point, for Frankie anyway, is that the Kingdom of Heaven is inside us, around us — not in another dimension and for another time but her and now.
Scholars and Church authorities are as-yet undecided on the provenance and the authority of Thomas’s Gospel, but it’s always a wonderful thing to find a new text from the middle First Century.
Today’s Gospel reading in church, and the subject of Father Rich’s sermon, was the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt soon after Jesus’s birth — to escape King Herod, who had decided to secure his kingship and defend against this king whose birth he’d heard about by killing all the babies in his area of Israel.
Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father, was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt. And it wasn’t the first time his life had been directed by a dream; when his fiancee, Mary, turned up pregnant, he decided to divorce her quietly (being a kind man, not wishing to humiliate her). Then, in a dream, he learned that she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, not by an earthly rival to Joseph, and that his destiny was to care for her and for the child. Being a good man, Joseph did as he was told, did what was clearly God’s will.
When he was told in a third dream that it was safe to return from Egypt, he came back, settled in Nazareth, taught Jesus a trade, made sure he was educated in the Scriptures (Jesus could find just what he was looking for in a scroll of the Book of Isaiah, a neat trick that shows his familiarity with scrolls).
The first Joseph, in the Book of Genesis, Isaac’s youngest son (the coat-of-many-colors Joseph) was also associated with dreams. He amazed Pharaoh by interpreting dreams, which led to his elevation to what was essentially Pharaoh’s Chancellor — by which he saved both the Egyptians and his own family from starvation and fulfilled God’s will.
Father Rich pointed out that Joseph the father of Jesus fulfilled his destiny simply by doing what he was told to do — by angels, in a dream.
Two new Recovery opportunities have landed on my lap recently, broadcast by a benevolent hand:
1. A Twelfth Step call my friend Tom and I have become involved in during the past 2 weeks. Tom’s sponsor had relapsed, mostly on crack cocaine, with a bit of alcohol mixed in, I guess. Said sponsor is an old, old friend of mine named Jim, a guy I’ve known since 2004, when we attended, every Monday evening, a group called Overcomer’s Outreach. It’s 12-Step based, and our group was mostly alcoholics, with a few drug addicts thrown in, and an occasional pornography addict or bulimic thrown in. We spent years together, and then the group declined in numbers and faded away.
But the point here is that I know Jim well, paid hard attention when Tom told me he’d relapsed, and worried about him. Then one Thursday evening about 8:45 Tom called, said Jim wanted to go to Detox, asked me to go along. At first I begged off — but I called him back about a minute later and said I’d go with him.
So we went to the Motel 6 down near Interstate 75, picked Jim up, and drove him to Detox. Altogether it took less than an hour, and I was very, very glad I’d done it — first 12-Step work ever for me. Hope to do more.
2. I was the speaker at the New Freedom group Jan. 2. I’ve done it twice before (once there and once at a different group), but it’s always good for me to share my story, and hopefully good for at least one person in the audience. It went well, but I get nervous and start rattling it off a bit — hope it’s not too noticeable. People afterward, and the next day, were kind enough to compliment me, say it went well, even highlight some specifics they’d noticed.
Anyway, a good Recovery week — with the added benefit that Tom and I visited, last Saturday afternoon, a good friend of ours who had relapsed. Just sat and talked, but lately this friend, Bill W by name (ironic, eh?) has sobered up, showed up at meetings, gone to lunch with me, and generally speaking seems pretty well.