New York City rarely gets the worst of any major weather event, but we love to make a huge thing of what we do get. I was on the street when the fifteen or so minutes of whiteout snow and gale force winds swept through. It seemed briefly possible that I might get blown backwards and away and I found begrudging humor in how in-sync the weather and my emotional state was.
The snow was gone as quickly as it came. Steam puffed upwards into a stunning and unfair sunset. From the huge windows of the Park Slope living room I’m in, snugly tucked among patterned carpets, blankets, and velvet chairs, any wind and single digit temperatures seemed small and quaint. I am the person who lives in the tiny, candlelit house in a snow globe – never in real danger from the dream-of-a-dream of bad weather.
It’s not the first time I’ve been in this room, but it is the first time I’ve been alone, in a crisis, in this room. This beautiful apartment on the top floor of a historic townhouse is inherently comforting. It’s not just because it belongs to dear friends who are absurdly good to me. The warm wall paint, the rich wood – it’s made entirely of things that signify security. It’s a very straightforward version of not-my-home-but-feels-like-home. Other places in my life that feel like home are so because they were built through time and joy and trauma. The things that forged those places can also make them unstable. There’s something easy and soothing about inhabiting a fireplace and sweater catalog image of home instead.
There’s no easy way to short-circuit the worst of human pain, but there are weird and laser-specific moods you discover. The tautness of everything you are as you walk knowingly into an unbearably shitty thing. The rush and melodrama of explaining your sadness to someone when it’s still an Event. And I’ve found the shape of another packaged, artisanal emotional experience in the past few days.
The sun is setting again and I can see nothing but those puffs of smoke and this Brooklyn that feels like it can’t be the same one I live in. In a way it’s a reverse “other people’s windows” feeling. Right now I’m afraid of that feeling. Up here, I’m safe behind a window other people can’t look into. Even the annoying sobs I let out last night felt a step removed; the appropriate crying of a girl in a TV show about wealthy people. Part of me thinks the gutting won’t come if I stay suspended figuratively and actually up here, padding around (in borrowed clothes, which somehow adds to it all) in this version of Myself in Pain that’s edited and polished.
You learn something new every day. I’ll go back down eventually.
My grandmother’s middle name is Christine. My mom’s middle name is Christine. My middle name is Anne. Growing up, I hated that – to me pointless – choice to break tradition. “Molly Christine” was more interesting, more romantic. It could have been a small comfort to me in all the years I hated both my names and longed for something feminine and flowery like Rose or Violet. My mom always said that she wanted to name me something that worked in all stages of life. She wasn’t fond of the popular choices of my era like Katie or Brittany. If not Molly, might have been Anne Elizabeth or Elizabeth Anne (called Liza).
Molly is perky, clipped, and short. It wasn’t common, but it didn’t feel special. The one or two others at school were always sportier or cheerier than I was. Famous examples real and fictional (Malone, Brown, Bloom, Ringwald, et al.) likewise seemed cut from a different cloth entirely. And Anne…well I often prefaced it with “and the most boring middle name ever.”
I’m huddled in an airport bar at JFK, more than three hours before my flight to Albuquerque. Even with the wide margin of error, my anxiety spiked in the car on the way over. This trip has been a fixed mark for months and now, as it’s happening, part of my mind is bracing for something to make it impossible. The giddy, exciting side of anticipation has always been basically inaccessible for me until I cross some threshold that confirms the awaited thing will actually come. This confirmation can be superstitious. It just has to feel safe. There is a point where waiting can feel good. It’s the feeling of sitting in a restaurant when you know someone is meeting you or a theater when you’re seated but the curtain hasn’t gone up. Getting through security at the airport does this, too, even though things could still go wrong.
Besides, I have a soft spot for airport bars. Drinking alone in them still makes me feel special and like an adult in a way that isn’t depressing like most other things about feeling adult. Maybe it’s because they’re so often places where I experience that rare high of waiting. Most forms of travel are romantic, even down to the subway, so it could be that a little of that train station anything can happen aura rubbed off onto the overpriced restaurants at JFK. Airport bars are not glamorous. Look even a little closely and it falls apart, but the illusion persists for me.
I used to think that this kind of waiting was the happiest a person could be in life; when against our better judgment we let the optimism and potential get to us without the edge and disappointment of reality. I was sort of right. It wasn’t safe to believe you’d arrive or could rest in anything. Maybe I didn’t realize that it’s possible to take it too far and never remember to stop and take inventory of everything. This is the second time I’ve flown to ABQ. This time I’m alone. But I’m going towards (and back) to something. The other day my boyfriend said “you’ll be home soon,” referring to this flight, this day. I don’t know if it was a slip on his part. Either way, it feels true.
I’m coming up on my third anniversary of living in New York. New York still seems fake, sometimes. It’s probably a common enough experience for the transplants, this feeling that we can’t possibly be allowed to just live here; that it’s going to kick us out any second, doomed thereafter to try and fail to get back as if New York were actually bound by a Brigadoonesque enchantment. It’s hard to accept that I live here because my life has gone a bunch of ways that no child dreams about and moving to New York is the one thing I said I would do as a unforged young person that I followed through on.
It is, in almost every way, different than I imagined it. The New York I was supposed to move to some day was meant to be the big threshold crossing, tadaima-ass moment. The person who stepped across that threshold was not just me but the best version of me. For a while, that seemed possible, as if the two suitcases I packed and brought with me on that one way flight in 2016 were all there was to it – no looming depression, no eating disorder (at least not in a cool, manageable way), no ill-advised and already dead marriage.
Some months ago, one of those 1.5x speed, flailing late night conversations life sometimes grants us produced an epiphany and that is – you can’t be both a Fuccboi and a Zaddy. To refresh on the etymologically recent but spiritually ancient concept of the Zaddy: a Zaddy is an attractive, (almost always) older man who is not necessarily a father but gives off that innate aura of responsibility. Do you ever think it would be kind of hot to be sternly told to get your shit together? A Zaddy is the type of person who could fulfill that fantasy. This is not to say that all Zaddies are good partners. I think the dark side of a Zaddy romance is probably be a man who doesn’t cede enough emotional territory, is patronizing in an unsexy way, or makes you feel messy and small. I mean, I am messy and small, but come on. I am already tired of typing the word Zaddy but I will forge on!
- The guy who is getting hanged TONIGHT
“They’re Hanging Me Tonight” is one of the songs that gets stuck in my head the most and it might be the prettiest ballad on the album. As for the narrator of this track…not so pretty. The way the story unfolds is clever – it throws you for a loop by starting out as a simple breakup song. This dude is sad because it’s raining and it reminds him of the night his girlfriend, Flo, left him for another man. That’s rough. It turns out this story is being told from the dude’s jail cell on the night of his execution because he straight up killed his ex and her new boyfriend. The twist of the line “they’ll bury Flo tomorrow/but they’re hanging me tonight” makes for good storytelling but this dude is still terrible and it rings too true to shit that is still being done. Flo was probably pretty smart for trying to leave.
- The guy who heard the Master’s Call
“The Master’s Call” is about a BAD DUDE who became an outlaw when he was only a teenager, grieving his parents to know that “their only boy was bad.” He repents from his sinful ways when he is saved from a lightning storm and a stampede by a barricade of already dead horses by what can only be a miracle from God and honestly it goes on kind of long and is hard to visualize. Point is, the narrator of this song converted and loves to talk about the time he almost died. He pulls out this story at every social event. He’s the speaker that comes to teen youth group events called, I don’t know – cRAVE in a jagged lime green font – and shares his edgy testimony about how he used to have sex and do drugs but now doesn’t and is still cool because see he has a printed t-shirt and jewelry on. What.
The trauma that drives a stake through in the lives of a family in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House takes place in summer 1992, but you wouldn’t always know it by the clothes. Even with plenty of scenes following the adult characters in 2018, the art direction, costumes, and set dressing of Hill House itself impart an unmoored, out-of-time feeling. Like many a good Gothic drama before it, Hill House is a living thing. In stories from The Fall of the House of Usher to Wuthering Heights, great houses are used as a reflection (or magnification) of the hearts of their inhabitants. And the heart of Hill House, both the place and the show, is Carla Gugino’s Olivia.
Olivia’s character fits in another Gothic tradition – a certain type of extremely, almost anachronistically feminine women with high susceptibility to spooky meddling. I’m honestly not sure what to call this trope and I’ve had trouble finding scholarship on it. I noticed a trend in Gothic stories and those that take inspiration from the genre of female characters who are not the main actors or agents but are instrumental to the conflict. They usually die or are marked indelibly by the supernatural. It seems fundamentally different from fridging, though the fates of these women do tend to motivate other characters. They are often mothers, making this character type unique in that there’s not necessarily a hard line between the feminine power of a maiden and the feminine power of the maternal. What these characters share is an intentionally exaggerated femininity that marks them as more fragile, ethereal, or even less tied to this earth than others. And the nightgowns.
Golden joy, silver sorrow/everything so far/for your sake, for love’s sake alone/let’s empty these two bowls
So ends the baleful, synthed-out theme song to the 1991 anime Brother, Dear Brother as images of carriages, antique clocks, and parasols fade off the screen. The scene is set for something sweeping and operatic, the kind of story where destined love must overcome war, class divides, or even death. It’s a fair expectation from a Riyoko Ikeda story and director Osamu Dezaki, the same combination on The Rose of Versailles, which had all of that stuff. Then the first episode starts and it’s about…Nanako, an everyday 16-year-old, and her first day of high school. Brother, Dear Brother dares to establish a setting where the chasm between epic romance and mundane teenage life isn’t that wide. It may not exist at all. The characters’ minor dramas – being slighted by the school’s most exclusive clique, low grades on midterm exams – are placed up against dark secrets, mysterious terminal illnesses, and the kind of unrequited love that can destroy lives.
I have a weakness for art that is overblown, baroque, and unafraid to lean into its Too Muchness. My fondness for melodrama is because it actually touches me. Especially resonant nuggets of truth about the human condition are often at the heart of the biggest, heaviest-handed stories. When a character in Brother, Dear Brother is compared to a historical prince, we are rewarded with a freeze frame her dressed as a royal and surrounded by fluttering cherry blossoms. Anger and conflict are punctuated by sudden storms, lightning highlighting wide-eyed expressions. The protagonist’s crush actually has a rose in her teeth at one point. It’s all ridiculous. And very charming. Most of all, it conjures a world of female adolescence that forces the audience to live in its visceral experience instead of gawking at teen drama or hiding behind cynicism.
The intersection of personal relationships and the messy cocktail of talent, drive, and competition has become, increasingly, my narrative catnip. I love a good sports anime that is Actually about Human Connection All Along. Some of the most complex and painfully human character types come from these stories: the prodigy who doesn’t want glory as much as everyone wants them to want it, the relentless competitor who can’t work their way into born talent, or the people who define their entire worth by a grueling and fleeting achievement.These tensions have been explored wonderfully in shows like Ping Pong and AKB0048, and this past summer, Shoujo Kageki Revue Starlight.
In Revue Starlight‘s Takarazuka-based performing arts school, the girls are not only training to be musical theater stars in their everyday lives, but competing in after-hours, surreal duels to choose their own “stage of destiny,” Yes, the director worked with Ikuhara. Fantastical elements aside, Starlight has moments of surprising bluntness regarding the ruthless and often unfair system that allows only certain actresses to set on a path to become a Top Star. I loved the arc of rivals and leading students Maya Tendou and Claudine Saijo, or the tragedy of Nana Daiba, a girl who rejects her potential to be a top star because she fears the isolation that her success at the expense of others’ failures would bring.
I’ve started a few drafts about Maya, Nana, and others, but I keep coming back to an episode of Revue Starlight that ultimately doesn’t have much to do with being a star, but being a good partner. The protagonist, Karen, is motivated by promise she made with her childhood friend, Hikari, but to me there is a far more compelling look at the weight of long relationships and promises in the duo of Kaoruko and Futaba.
The Affair has relied heavily on drowning and ocean metaphors since its pilot in 2014. Its moody opening credit footage of crashing water fit the rustic landscape of Montauk and set the mood to think about the capricious and overwhelming nature of lust and love. In its four seasons, almost every character has cheated or imploded their relationships in some way, but When Fiona Apple sang “there’s only one thing I can do and that’s be the wave that I am/and then sink back into the ocean” I always had the sense that those lines, or maybe the song in general, were about Alison. Alison who starts the story defined by a literal drowning – the death of her toddler son. A woman who is afraid of the ocean, but is treated as a siren by most of the men in her life. I started watching The Affair to pass time, and because I’m drawn to stories and discussions of infidelity. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved or feel so seen by a character, but Alison has come to be very special to me.
**spoilers for the latest season of The Affair**
I just finished the fourth and latest season and while it expanded far beyond the actions of its original affair and into overly soapy territory, I couldn’t look away. Even at its worst the disastrous orbit of these characters – the “main” couple but also betrayed spouses, children, and new relationships – was bleakly addictive. Most importantly for me, Alison remained the emotional heart of the story. Her extreme choices and darkest turns never felt contrived and campy so much as tragic. No main character hated themselves more or tried harder to have a purpose; to be understood, loved, and chosen. As you may have seen in entertainment headlines lately, Ruth Wilson has left the cast. In the show, this meant the fourth season climaxed in Alison’s death. She never got to rewrite her narrative as she wanted. Her story, in her own words at least, is now over, but I imagine she’ll be on my mind for a long time.