Friday, April 29, 2011

Cinderella Rears Her Ugly Head

Typically, I am not an impulsive writer. Correction: typically, I do not post my impulsive writings. Yet, as England makes itself busy sweeping its streets, clearing away evidence of today’s royal bonanza, I awoke from a evening nap with this very lucid and sobering thought: “Oh no, back to this Cinderella sh*t again.”

At four o clock this morning, not at all by any progressive steps of my own making, I was lured into tuning in to watch Prince William and (formerly) Kate Middleton’s nuptials. Surprisingly, over the last week I had gotten entrenched in the media spectacle covering the perpetual countdown of the big wedding. Last Sunday I watched the Lifetime Network’s adaptation of Kate and William’s love story. I assumed their version would be too cheery and not at all the kind of true depiction I enjoy. Still, I watched understanding that in a decade or so I’ll get the much darker and more authentic tale when Oscar nominated actors, skilled directors, an amazing cinematographer, have enough of the details to give me something to really sink my teeth into. Last week, with so much emphasis back on the royal family I watched a YouTube of the 1995 BBC interview that Princess Diana did with interviewer Martin Bashir (infamously known as the interviewer that did in Michael Jackson). And then yesterday my favorite blogger, Scott Schuman, over at The Sartorialist, atypical of his normal communication through photography, put a simple post entitled “so are you actually, really interested in the royal wedding?” Normally, I do not take the time to leave comments on The Sartoralist, with the site’s enormous fan base* I know that my comment will get lost among the hundred others. However, I responded:

I also will have my DVR set! I have a law school final tomorrow so...I have no time to get up to watch it! I think that in the grand scheme of isn't "important." Yet, I think some people take some extra concern in this because of its connection to Princess Diana. Clearly, this isnt about her...but seemingly the world has always been fixated on anything that involves or relates to her. As this is her child getting married and many saw him grow makes sense. Also, we are a society that is obsessed with weddings. And this is why I am excited to see the DRESS. Plus, the ‘commoner’ kate story is about as real life Cinderella as we probably will ever see in our life time. So, although odd...I do think to some degree most people are "really" interested in this.

And my DVR was set and ready to defy time, making it possible for me to later go back and scan through the whole procession to the moment that I have argued is the real centerpiece for American (and obviously English) weddings—the dress. I wrote here last summer about my fascination with wedding dresses. I actually debased weddings entire purpose to the dress. I was “thrilled to bits” (paying homage to Princess Diana) to see the dress, and I knew I would later on in the day.

That was until my neighbor from hell decided that at four o clock in the morning he wanted to walk around overhead loudly and thump (which I later learned was him falling *deathstare*) and awake an already anxiety ridden, sleep deprived neighbor beneath him. I was beyond irked! I looked at the clock and realized that only two hours had passed since I went to bed and became even more annoyed. I also realized that he had woke me up in the nick of time to catch a peek at the bride. I didn’t realize that when all the national networks started picking up the coverage in England they would have two full hours of coverage until the bride was revealed. Still, in a state of law school finals anxiety, annoyance with my neighbor, I found myself on my couch, eyes literally burning from sleep deprivation, in front of the television.

I wish I could say that the coverage wasn’t exciting but even I, with a head full of cotton was enthralled with the royal procession. The beautiful cars with their unnaturally clear windows and equally spectacular passengers. It was all rather whimsical. And then the moment that I was waiting for—Kate emerged, playing peek-a-boo, strategically getting into the car without letting the billions of viewers see the dress. Still, from the headshot image I could see from her ridding in the car I was positive that I wasn’t going to really be moved by the, what was announced later to be designed by Sarah Burton of the late Alexander McQueen, dress.

And then something very odd happened. As I watched the angelic looking Kate being driven to the Westminster Abbey in a Queen’s Classic 1977 Rolls-Royce Phantom, I literally—wait for it—shed a tear. I could not believe this disgusting display of daintiness. I was shocked. I didn’t understand that emotion, and I might add I am very in touch with my emotions. I quickly became dry eyed, laughed at myself and dismissed the previous emotional blunder as pomp and circumstance.

Somewhere in the back of mind though, I knew what that tear was about and it had nothing to do with the ceremony, per se. As a woman who, for the past two years, has openly made it known that I do not wish to get married nor do I find marriage necessary, it is safe to say that I do not believe in the traditional fairy tale. In my adulthood I have become a lot more realistic with the way that I view relationships and my expectations for love. It was my feminist enriched undergraduate education that helped reconstruct how I viewed the ridiculous Cinderella story. As a feminist, regardless of my views on marriage, I have difficulty endorsing any storyline that allows a man’s affirmation of a woman dictate her fate. Even with Pretty Woman being my favorite movie, I ended up having to reevaluate why that movie has a special place in many women’s hearts including my own. I have discovered that while grown women try to abandon childish ways it is through Cinderella stories like Pretty Woman, masked in mature plots and sexual scenes, that the little girl in us is awakened. We say that we don’t believe in fairy tales but the years of conditioning that we received as "good girls that wait" is not so far in the past.

But there was that darn tear. As I watched Kate get what I had labeled as the most real life Cinderella story ever known, her evolving from a plain girl ridiculed for her looks to a full-on princess, the little girl in me that believed in princes and fairytales reared her naïve frizzy head. Adulthood has taught me that Cinderella stories are only relevant in imaginary worlds where fairy dust resides. Yet, I was teary eyed. After I laid in bed after my abundantly refreshing nap this evening, clear headed, I cursed Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Catherine and her wickedly fantastic love story, full of love, challenges, break-ups and ultimate reunions, just set feminist and the like about three hundred years back. Thanks your royal highness!

* You can catch an interview that was posted on this week about both the site and Mr. Schuman’s aim as a fashion blogger here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Foreign Tsunami

It’s hard to be apathetic for things you don’t understand. When I heard about the Japanese Tsunami last week*, I shortly gasped and feigned shock. I rhetorically stated how awful it was. This was my reaction not out of organic concern but because I knew I had to get it up for the messenger delivering the news. I know when a reaction is expected and more often than not I give it. I didn’t understand what had occurred in this foreign land nor did I have the concern to really get into the details of it. I saw the media typhoon covering the international disaster and wondered why my internal reaction was so minimal.

Yet, I still remembered distinctly a scene from a fictional dramatic series leaving me literally walking around my apartment sobbing and babbling in a fit of hysteria. Even more recently, Maya Angelou on Oprah’s OWN network discussing her life, emotionally touched me in a way that left me in a complete state of stillness. The vast difference between the disaster in Asia and my reaction to scenes played out on my television screen is not of magnitude. Instead, the difference lives in my connectedness to the issues.

Generally, this is the difference that resides within all of us. The difference that makes us seem insensitive when someone else’s heartstrings are tied and pulled tightly around an issue. We all have led lives with varying degree of experiences, helping to facilitate how we view and react to the things put before us. I reacted weakly to news of the Tsunami because beside the images I viewed over at CNN I have no point of reference for it. Not only did Tsunami feel foreign to my tongue as I played with it in my mouth, the concept of a real life natural disaster was remote. Simply, Tsunamis are someone else’s devastation, not mine.

What’s disastrous to me are the saddening things that happen in my orbit of reality on a daily basis. If I want to see disaster, I don’t have to look across an ocean, disaster lives in my own backyard. When I heard about the eleven-year old girl in Texas getting rapped by close to two dozen men—that was disastrous to me. I could relate—not because I have ever been sexually violated but because as a woman, who was told at an early age to always let her parents know if anyone touched her, the possibility of sexual violation has always been in my orbit of reality.

Not to mention, that I think I have just become overtly desensitized to large scale disasters. Literally, a plane went through, at that time, the two largest buildings in New York. And I sat, at age fourteen, a few states away watching it on television. I watched people cry, bleed, and die in the street. But wait, two years prior to that, at age twelve, on every news station there was coverage of a boy walking into a high school and killing thirteen people. And then more recently we had black people, my people, floating in dirty water for weeks--the president, apathetically, in plane flying overhead. Approximately two thousand people died from that--and I watched it on my television screen. Then to round things off, in 2008 there was a lunatic running around the streets of D.C. playing a game of Russian roulette. Those disasters are in my backyard and the frequency of them numbs me for the next disaster. Thus, when I heard about Japan’s Tsunami—a natural disaster I couldn't understand it. I understand man-made disasters. I understand people hurting people. A tsunami--is just foreign.

And this awareness is what is starting to transform my own reaction to others who seem cold and indifferent to things that deeply affect me. I am becoming more apathetic to those whose icy dispositions I can’t understand. Prior to, it would anger me when people couldn’t understand how I felt, or seemed to meet my emotion with coldness. Within the last few years, as the result of personal experiences, I understand both sides of the coin on a few issues. Now, I understand both being apathetic about those issues and later being deeply invested in them. You can't fully empathize with something unless you have been through it. Now, I understand that the person that hurts me and doesn’t apologize isn't necessarily a jerk. The person just hasn't experienced that kind of hurt yet. That kind of pain is foreign to them.

Race relations, from a very broad lens is not about ones hatred for another’s race. Instead, it’s apathy for a group of people and the issues of those people we know only abstractly. I can’t understand the issues that specifically affect white people. I realized this was the case when I, during my time abroad, sat in a room of predominately white people and watched a movie about the Holocaust. They wept. My eyes were dry. Yet, I have not ever attempted to watch Roots and every time I try to watch The Color Purple I can’t deal with the emotions it elicits. Jewish suffering—I don’t relate to. Black suffering—I do.

As I watched a woman back in September (the same day that I had the “chance encounter” that I discussed here) become uncontrollably emotional, I realized the power of relevance. She was sitting outside of Pottery Barn with a woman that looked to be of relation to her, a flow of people passing by, a steady flow of tears freely and shamelessly drawing lines down her face. The way that she cried seemed so natural and effortless that I surmised she had been crying for days, at minimum the entire day. She seemed comfortable, so settled into her sadness that I couldn’t imagine her as anything but.

There would have been a time that I would have looked at this young woman and quickly and disgustedly labeled her weak. I would have figured that she was weeping over a man and that she should just wipe her tears, have some pride about herself, and pretend not to care. There was a time that I believed a nonchalant exterior created an indifferent interior. On that day, though, I understood that you cannot pretend away pain. There’s not enough pretending in this world for that to be a plausible remedy. At that point, I had comfortably sat with my own pain and therefore didn't look at her with pity—but instead with understanding.

And so, while I don’t understand what is going on in Japan—I will have empathy. Not because I can relate to the Tsunami, as I’ve said, the Tsunami, the natural disaster, the country, all of that is foreign to me. What isn’t foreign, though, is the suffering. I understand suffering. And for that, for that which I understand, my heart is genuinely heavy.

*I started writing this the week of the Tsunami. Out of respect for the people affected by the recent events, I halted writing and decided to postpone until now.