Monday, June 27, 2011

The Buried Path

There's a reason why I don't go out much. I could say it's because I'm focused on this book, which is true but not the main nugget. As attractive as a devotion-to-art cover is, it would be dishonest. I'm too broke and marginal to peddle lies. No, the driving force behind my non-existent social life is an undying hatred of Ann Arbor and all it represents.

I'm not proud of this. I've tried many times to outgrow it, shed it, beat it into submission and throw it in a landfill. Negative emotion, regardless of purity, drains and cheapens you. There are elements of Ann Arbor that don't make me pine for a flamethrower, but exceptions always exist. Anytime I'm near a crowd of Arborites, my skin thins to a nervous hum. My mind reads like extended passages from American Psycho. Mercifully, I don't ruminate on the deep meaning of Huey Lewis or Phil Collins. That would push me over.

For years I've flirted with various local crowds and individuals. Looked to fit in. However different each scene was, a provincial thread connected them. I've never seen a community so in love with its own importance. (Well, there's DC, but that's empire. They actually kill people there.) They speak as if Ann Arbor is a major cultural center. They act as if you couldn't possibly understand or appreciate what sets them apart. I've received plenty of smug condescension from those who deign to create whatever it is they create. People here tend to talk more than do. And most times they're talking down.

I'm no innocent victim. I have plenty of attitude as well. But when you've cleaned after Arborites, scrubbed their toilets, hauled their trash, you get a keener perspective on their pettiness and casual cruelty.

This was especially evident during Obama's '08 campaign. If you wanted a glimpse of what a white yuppie liberal cult looked like, that was the time. They not only droned on about the historic importance of electing Obama, they tolerated zero dissent. The older they were, the more rigid their demeanor. The reality of Obama has softened them a bit, but the 2012 stickers are multiplying and liberals are again getting That Look. "It begins with us," is the new official mantra. Yeah, and it ends the same old way.

To see me in public, you'd never guess that this is how I feel. I'm friendly, polite, crack jokes, spread peace. This isn't camouflage -- I'm genuinely trying to divert my demons and break their hold. I often fail but that's my weakness.

I tried again Saturday afternoon. Nan invited me to see The Tree of Life with her at the Michigan Theater. She's fonder of Terrence Malick than I am (I do love The Thin Red Line, the anti-Private Ryan), but this film features a remembered, troubled childhood. Right up my present street. Plus, I like the Michigan Theater. It reminds me of the old movie palaces in New York which no longer exist. And they sell beer. So I'm right at home.

Of course, this being an "art" film that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes guaranteed a yuppie Arborite presence. And there they were, nodding to one another, talking about film as confessional or something transcendent. Woody Allen nailed this type in Annie Hall. But it really didn't bother me. The brisk walk to the theater put me in a decent mood. The crowd was small, so Nan and I would have space. Sit down, drink a beer, relax, enjoy the film.

You'd think that Malick is to this crowd what Michael Bay is to suburban moviegoers. In theory, anyway. But once Tree of Life slowly unfolded, and it does take its time, many in the audience grew restless.

As Malick explored the origins of the universe and life on this cooling water planet, throats were cleared, bodies adjusted, sighs released. A few people walked out, shaking their heads in disbelief. A woman several rows behind me kept muttering something. I closed my eyes and focused on her voice. Apparently her sister said that Tree of Life was bad, that she should've heeded her warning. She didn't leave, though. Just muttered further disappointment.

I reveled in the surrounding discomfort. It made me smile. It also kept me from directly engaging the film. Nan was rapt, completely in Malick's grip. She saw things I didn't and shares them in a wonderful review. I wasted time laughing at the locals. My contempt, however silent, was precisely what I claim to despise in others. Hate something long enough and soon hatred's all you have.

Nan concludes:

"The Tree of Life is a testament to trying, however imperfectly, to come to terms with the mysteries that can destroy us, or, if we surrender, bless us with miraculous grace."

Grace sounds great. Surrendering to mystery is another story.