not too late in the year to eat out on the terrace






Let’s eat out on the terrace…

If they write something about me after I’m gone, I hope it at least makes passing mention to my love of autumn. It’s so much a part of my story that I can’t help but get choked up at the thought of it.

When I was a teenager, I listened to the album October by U2 so many times I think I may have worn out the record player. Although I studied classical music, I did learn some jazz standards as a teenager, and Autumn Leaves continues to be one of those tunes I still find myself drawn to.

Anyone can appreciate the early days of fall. The days are somehow poignant…is that even possible? Can a day be described as such? Late summer become autumn and their are reds that evolve into yellows. Those then fade to light and then darker browns and eventually everything is so spartan that it’s undeniable winter is upon us. Right around the corner.

That’s when I love autumn most. That moment before the expiration, like in the last aria Mimi sings before she gives into the consumption. That’s when the thing gets said. The important thing. The part that we’ve been waiting for since the First Act.

You know what’s coming, and nature makes one final gasp. The single solitary leaf on the tree that just refuses to give up and fall. I can sympathise with that leaf, and I’m not going to give in. Even if I was the last leaf and had to hang on till the bitter end.

There’s a lot of loss in my life right now, but none of it is bad. Some loss is really necessary. If you’re in a toxic situation, it’s actually crucial that you lose it. That you either get rid of the toxicity or you extricate yourself from said situation.

For me personally, I’ve decided to reevaluate some of the bigger aspects of my present life. Where I live and with whom I spend my time. For several of the people closest to me, this is going to hurt. In fact, it’ll likely hurt a great deal. I waited a long time to take these decisions, and I think I waited so very long partially to avoid that pain.

It’s since become self-evident that the waiting was hurting more than actually making a move. That my impending exit was like writing on the wall. I thought I was able to keep my emotions to myself, but those around me saw me increasingly agitated and even a bit manic on occasion.

One friend in particular pulled me aside and said that if I didn’t make a decision and act immediately, that I was bound to snap and do something I might regret. I was so tightly wound that I almost tore his head off at the very mention of my tension. You probably assume that because I’m an artist I’m exaggerating how dramatic it was. You could be right. I’m not the best judge of those moments. I’ve learned to rely on my closest confidants to help me keep my explosive nature in check.

So, here we are in the best moment of late autumn. All is dying away, and soon it’ll be bleak and desolate. The dark night of the soul has returned to some of us, and if we’re lucky we can remind ourselves that we’ve survived many of these winters before. Please don’t worry about me upon reading this blogpost. I can assure you that I’ve had some sad and depressing moments in my life, but this isn’t one of them.

Because I’ve finally taken the decision and acted, I’m actually rather relieved. There’s a spring in my step, and I’m able to look around and appreciate the beauty that’s all around me. It’s the most wonderful part of catharsis. I’ve made it through, and the relief has me incomparably optimistic.

The last leaf now has my permission to fall. I know there’ll be more where that came from. It might take a while, but spring will come again. If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that spring will come again.

soft as mother hard as father

The Tree of Life

How does one even begin to write about Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life? When it first came out, critics were clear that this wasn’t your average film. I think I remember one review I read said something like love it or hate it, you won’t forget this work. It was called many things and there was a kind of hold-it-at-arm’s-length quality to some responses.

That’s why I approached it with a bit of trepidation. What if it’s great, but I just don’t get it? What if it’s terrible, but no-one wants to say that the master film maker’s made some Emperor’s New Clothes? Luckily, neither of these turned out to be an issue.

Rather than attempt a traditional review, I’d like to do write about what it made me think of. What flights of fancy I found myself on not only while I was watching it, but over the next few days as I thought about it. It was that sort of film. The perfect sort of movie to see with friends and then bicker about the meaning of certain things afterwards. Since I saw it alone, you’ll have to stand in for my friends who’d think my impressions were madness. You can do that, can’t you?

There’s nothing standard or even straight-forward about the narrative, so it actually seems appropriate to write about it in an equally impressionistic manner.

‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth … when the morning stars sang together?’                (Job 38: 4, 7)

Seems like the entirety of the work is a swing back and forth from the mother’s side of the film to the father’s. The mother in the film is not only devastated that she’s lost one of her children, but also because she thought she had an agreement with God. If you’re weird about talking/thinking about God, then insert the word ‘universe‘ whenever I mention God. Even if you approach this topic purely on an ethical plane, it’ll make sense and even possibly be worth pondering.

the mother’s contract

The mother thought that somehow if she chose the way of grace, rather than the way of nature, that she’d be spared the indignities of life. That she’d not have anything as horrible as losing a child if she somehow followed a spiritual path. Yet that’s the whole point for those who believe such things. No matter what little deals you make with the universe, there are no guarantees. None.

We seem to think that doing good is a kind of insurance that goodness will come to us. That success has everything to do with our goodness. That it’s somehow a reflection of our kindness. From my perspective, what’s intriguing isn’t that she thinks she can make such a deal but that she’s so completely unprepared for the possibility that God wouldn’t keep up his side of the bargain.

In the middle of all of this, there’s a break in the story. Suddenly, there are scenes that look like they belong in a nature film. But one of the most delicious and beautiful nature films you’ve ever seen. The beginning of the earth and the evolution of sea creatures to dinosaurs are shown, as are geological forces a bit like something out of Koyaanisqatsi.

But back to The Tree of Life

the father’s training

We hear his voice:

‘Your mother’s naive. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world. If you’re good, they’ll take advantage of you…

Don’t do like I did, promise me that…get sidetracked…

the world lives by trickery. If you want to succeed, you can’t be too good.’

The mother is the symbol for the spirit, and in this case that means the father stands for raw natural forces. We see the father teaching his sons to box. We see his tempestuous temper, and we cower with the rest of the family not knowing what will set him off on one of his unpredictable tirades.

At some point, there’s a voice asking, ‘Why should I be good if you aren’t?’ For me, it’s the critical question that the film poses. The boy is in a battle with his father and his feelings about this are tormenting him. As much as he feels for his mother, he can see himself slowly becoming his father. That he’s already cold and cruel in the face of her love.

We’ve heard the father’s world view in the words I included above. The mother’s words are far more soothing and offer a kind of warning:

‘The only way to be happy is to love.

Unless you love, your life will flash by…

Be good to them…wonder…hope…’

We see the boy as an adult, and it’s almost as if he’s finally coming to terms with his mother’s earlier guidance. He doesn’t know exactly how to process the waves of emotion that’re rolling over him, but my impression was that the maternal prophecy was exactly what he was ultimately being faced with.

It’s not easy to watch. Well, if you simply watch one picture flow into the next, then I suppose it won’t be so difficult. It is beautiful, after all. But the questions of grace versus nature have been nagging me since I first saw it. My first response was to reject that those were even proper opponents.

Grace and nature can be on the same team, right? Not in this case. For our purposes, you’ve got to choose. And in a strange way, you’ve probably already made your choice. I know I have.

I’ll leave you with a wonderful quote I found in an essay The Religious Meaning of Malick’s ‘Tree of Life’ by Rabbi David Wolpe. Here’s what he says, and I completely agree:

The great Dutch writer Harry Mulisch died this past year. Once asked the secret of life, he responded “make the puzzle bigger.” Malick makes the puzzle bigger, and so expands our sense of the intricacy and beauty of the world. In reworking Job for the 21st century, he teaches us anew of the grandeur of the world, and the grandeur of God.