Monday, November 09, 2009

Where I've been.


I've always been reluctant to talk about my personal life in great detail here, as I don't think it's very interesting. However, my absence from the blog has been long enough, and enough people have politely checked in to see how I've been doing (thanks, guys) that I thought I'd explain a little bit. I'm not at the place yet where I can offer much perspective on everything, but I'll do my best to fill in the broad details.

He enters the stall. The red head is leaning against the wall smoking her cigarette. She shoots him one quick seductive smile. He moves towards her.

MAX
You are so-

She cuts him off by placing her cigarette into his mouth.

RED HEAD
Don’t you ever just shut the fuck up?

He pitches the cigarette in the toilet and goes for a kiss. She forcefully puts her hand over his mouth stopping him.

RED HEAD
Don’t kiss me. If you kiss me on the lips - we’re done. And if we stop before I’ve come, I’ll kick your fucking ass.

- Excerpt from "BANG" screenplay

In the spring my wife, Jessica, became close with a filmmaker whose work I'd been a fan of (it wouldn't be fair of me to be more specific, but search around the internet for a few minutes and you can figure it out) and who'd offered to help with the marketing for Black Light. They announced a plan to make a porn film called BANG, the plot of which concerned a young man who, upon breaking up with his girlfriend, sleeps with seven different women in one night before reuniting with his girlfriend the next morning and having sex with her in a motel. Having just made a movie that is both erotic and very sympathetic to the experiences of sex workers, I wasn't automatically opposed to the idea on moral grounds. Jessica is a very talented and intelligent writer who has always struggled to find her voice, and it was good to see her enthusiastic about something. But I did have some concerns about the script, both as a product of Moth Films and on a personal level - frankly, the idea of sleeping with multiple people as a way of fixing one's relationship brushed up against issues we'd dealt with in our relationship, and I wondered aloud if the script was pure fantasy or if it represented her real views about sex and relationships. I felt like my concerns were reasonable, but she increasingly felt like I was holding her back from becoming her true self. She also talked a great deal about her friend, how she'd finally met someone who truly understood her, and started shutting me out both figuratively and literally, spending six hours at a time chatting on Facebook with the bedroom door closed. I became jealous, and when I expressed this I was told that I was being crazy and paranoid. Communication continued to deteriorate until the end of June, when I offered a choice between counseling or separation; she chose separation.

I spent two weeks at a friend's house to give Jessica some space to work out her plans; when I reached a point where I felt like I was beginning to let go of the situation and would be able to coexist without constant tension, I called to tell her that I'd be coming back to the apartment so I could spend more time with the kids. She agreed to this; that night, I arrived to find her, the kids and their things gone. She'd told people that I'd threatened her and the children and she needed to make a quick escape. She's told people close to me a lot of things, and while there's no question I was far from perfect in the relationship - when backed into a corner I was sometimes sarcastic, passive-aggressive and verbally cutting - she'd basically made me out to be a drug-addled, promiscuous Chris Brown. Which I'm not. I don't know why she felt the need to leave the way she did, but I was left with a trashed apartment, my kids gone without being able to say goodbye. So yeah, I wasn't doing so great in July.

"I don't hate you. I do pity you. After all the lectures you gave me about ego not being able to see ego and being emotionally open and stuff.... You already have all the answers you need to be a better person (not moral, I mean happier, healthier, more confident, and more successful) you just need to put them together." - letter from a friend

Things got better when I started seeing my kids again the next weekend, but I was completely blindsided by the end of the relationship, not to mention the dramatic way it ended, and I didn't really know how to put things back together. Honestly, some of the most theraputic moments during those first weeks were the craziest, like the night my friend Bella Vendetta took me to a dive bar in Deerfield, put an enormous amount of tequila in my system (I don't drink often) and told me "I'm glad you're not with her. I like you more this way" before taking me on a Hunter S. Thompson-esque joyride that ended with us watching Waiting to Exhale in her apartment. Then there were the nights spent up all night in my new friend Amanda's loft, where we smoked and listened to T Rex on vinyl and drew pictures as I thought to myself, "This is exactly what I should be doing right now." I had always assumed that, if my marriage ended, people would see me as a failure; I never expected people would care about me enough to take care of me, and in the midst of the chaos I found a new appreciation for the small good things.

My relationship to movies was strange during this period, which is what made it difficult to write. As I've gotten better I've realized just how serious my depression, which I've downplayed in my own mind as "me being dramatic" for years, had become. Looking back on some of my reviews over the past few years, like this one and this one and definitely this one, I realize that I was struggling to articulate what was going on inside my head as much as I was describing the movies. As Jessica and I left Synecdoche, New York I told her the film was frighteningly close to how I experience things; she replied, "Wow, you're really sad." I could have told you at the time, of course, that I related to the film on a conceptual level, but I could not have told you that Caden Cotard's deteriorating marriage to Adele Lack was frighteningly close to my own. So yeah, I personalize the movies I see - I think it's self-soothing, my own unconscious form of cognitive therapy.

"It's these greeting cards, Sir, these cards, these movies, these pop songs. They're responsible for all the lies, the heartache, everything! We're responsible!" - from 500 Days of Summer

But when Jessica left and I found myself going to the movies alone, I became dependent on them, to the point where I had nothing interesting to say about them. When I saw Public Enemies I was preoccupied with Dillinger's relationship with a beautiful brunette who is always out of reach (because I obviously have so much in common with John Dillinger). I couldn't focus on Harry Potter because of my complete contempt for the stupid little romances of the Hogwarts kids - don't they know that these young romances never last? And I checked out of Away We Go, which I worked on, after about ten minutes, because those insufferably happy hipsters were making me want to vomit (though I did see, at the real change, that I made it into the movie). And of course, there was my movie - which happens to be a heartfelt romance that ends on a defiant affirmation of the redemptive possibilities of love against all odds - to finish and premiere. I felt like I was being made to tap dance while gunslingers fired at my heels. The movie was well-receieved, and finishing it helped me get back in touch with my own feelings about love independent of my marriage. However, more than one person did point out that happy endings like the one at the end of Black Light don't happen in real life very often. Yeah, thanks for that.

"I'm getting in touch with my inner perv. If I came across a pair of moist granny panties in the laundry room, I would likely take a whiff. If when taking out the trash I noticed a couple fucking in their brightly lit apartment, I would likely creep up to the window & watch with lustful eyes. Definitely with a hand in my pants." - from Jessica's new blog

In August, Jessica and I had lunch, and we apologized to each other and things seemed to be getting better. It was around this point that I saw Inglorious Basterds, which was a perfect movie that I needed in so many ways, and which I had nothing more intelligent to say than "Movie awesome. Nazi scary." I'd started to think things were getting back on an even keel, that I was starting to adjust to this new life, until last week, when she called to announce that she was giving me the kids and did not want to see them again. She said that she was a bad person that nobody could care about and refused to elaborate, except to say that she was getting help. A few days later I got a call from her mother; nobody had heard from her in a few days, she wasn't at her apartment or answering her phone. She's staying with her filmmaker friend now, and there's no real way to preface this part - they're making foot porn together (again, search around and you'll find it). I'm still processing this part, but writing it all out like this helps. After the initial shock passed, I looked at her new blog again. I didn't feel jealous or insecure or any of the things I expected to feel; I felt sad, and concerned for her, and hoping this is just a step towards getting her to the place she needs to go to feel like herself, which she's struggled with for so long. I left a comment poking fun at her, not in a mean way but in the way we used to be when things were good, when we could gently call out each other's bullshit and remind each other how well each of us knew the other. And it finally felt like I was truly saying goodbye.

Now I'm focusing on the good changes which have come about as a result of these past few months and which, honestly, might not have happened if I was still married. The kids are with my parents now, and once I've sorted out daycare and other details, they'll be with me; I'm intimidated by the thought of being a single dad and a little afraid my life will become a bad Steve Martin comedy, but I've missed them terribly and I'm happy they're coming back. I'm moving my camera and notebook into Amanda's studio tonight - it's my first office space and I'm taking my first small steps towards making movies for a living. I've made new friends, and my relationships with the friends who've been there all along are stronger than ever. One of the best decisions I've made stemmed from the desire to turn my negative feelings about the situation into something positive; in September I wrote the filmmaker's ex-wife (they split shortly after Jess and I) a short note explaining that I was going through the same thing and that it had helped me a great deal at the beginning of being alone to have people to talk to. We became friends and, in pleasant and unexpected way, we hit it off. Her name is Annabelle. I couldn't have found a better person to share the very intimidating experience of taking the first tentative steps back towards romance. Whatever happens, I know I've made a lifelong friend; I think we both need that security right now. And no, our motive was not revenge, and yes, it is weird to be seeing your ex's lover's ex. I'm learning that a little weirdness can be a good thing.

There are still days where I don't want to get out of bed, where I feel like everything is basically meaningless and not worth the effort. But most days, I feel like everything is possible, that this has all happened for a reason. It's been a fucked-up year, but it's getting better. And I think I'm ready to start writing about movies again; I certainly have a lot to say about the amazing, beautiful Where the Wild Things Are, especially now that I'm Catherine Keener (not Synecdoche Keener - oh, synchronicities!). So if you're still around, thanks for checking in. I've missed you.

"Thank you for being the best friend I've ever had. No matter what turmoils we've experienced and conflict, we always find our way back into each other's arms. Thank you with every shred and ounce of my body. We are truly blessed. My heart is good and better than ever. I think I might be(don't get your hopes up) finally growing up. I love you with all of my heart and thank you for really being a great friend." - an e-mail from Jess, some years ago