Countless articles, books, seminars, retreats, pow-wows and treatises have delved into the subject of gender differences and relationships, or specifically working relationships. More to the point, and if I may, the issue of keeping the fire hot with burning love in a relationship with the two opposing, or at least contrasting genders in effect, or ineffectual, unaffectionate, inefficient, inundated, and inept is in real need of revelation and renewal.
The ethereal, somewhat obscure, stream of consciousness, out of both gender body experiences that Terrence Malick conveys in To The Wonder, as well as The Tree of Life are perhaps, or at least in my twisted little mind, the new blueprint for gender disparities and maybe holds the key to relationship building, or keeping. OK, I know, it’s art house drivel, ethereal who-hah, whispering winds, and let’s get the hell out of the theater before my goiter acts up, or my veins throb, or my indigestion becomes unbearable. But hold on, pay careful attention, Malick creates these caricatures of American Men and American Women that are not quite so far fetched from the reality of a gender based role call that was created by early Neanderthal beings. Man hunts, Woman does the rest. OK, fine, hunting was really hard, and the threat of velociraptors interrupting the card games was stress producing, while the girls stayed home and picked fleas, or mites, or ringworm from their blessed babies heads, and trunks, and scabied ankles. You know, doing all that girlish primping and such.
The menfolk go to WORK. They carry the weight of the toxically polluted world on their shoulders. How can they find words when faced with the life and death realities of everyday living in sprawling suburban Tru-Green enhanced yards? The women, left to care for the children and twirl around in dresses as light as the toxic fumes that dull their wits, crave the words that men can’t bare to mutter. Life. Death. Man. Woman.
Terrence Malick takes a bold risk by introducing a modern, new concept in To The Wonder, a woman that goes to WORK. She twirls. And breathes in the same light toxic fumes that make her crave the words that man won’t speak. Even while she manhandles the feed, in gasps and sighs as she cares for her cattle, and horses, and buffalo on her manly ranch, where men won’t stay, or speak.
So I don’t know Terry Malick, or what goes on in his curious little mind. (Oh, sorry, Mr. Malick, I’m sure it’s a verrrrry big mind.) Anywho….I think he’s onto something huge. Or at least he’s laying the groundwork here and it’s high time us girls either embrace the twirling or balance the twirling or put a new spin on our expectations. For reasons I can’t even begin to fathom, but I am altogether giddy about, I have recently, over the past year or two, embraced my twirl. I like it. I’ve always liked a twirl in a particularly twirly skirt, but that was generally between hurling feed, and digging trenches and working and picking tics off the backs of my babies. And it might have something to do with aging, all twirly and gracefully, and with more time and less trenches in need of digging and babies that have grown far and wide and can do their own picking should they be inclined.
My mind wanders, as it does, so lightly and twirly like the toxic fumes of a polluted world. I will add, I did my little part in keeping the world safe by limiting or refusing the use of most toxins so that I could feel all good and twirly as I raised up my babies to raise up their babies and so on and so forth. Read that sentence again. It’s the kicker, the secret, the difference between Man and Woman in the world at large, the world of cinema and the world of differences that still, always, infinitely exist, unless we heed Terrence Malick’s certain message and change our way of being.
A few months back I saw another deep and thoughtful non-art house flick. Warm Bodies. A zombie love story. It made me cry. Really. My friends laughed at me. They seem to imagine me an art house flick bon vivant. (snicker snicker). And everyone knows zombies are for boys, and Men. But Warm Bodies was a love story of boy meets girl, a modern spin on Romeo and Juliet. After my friends are finished laughing at me, we start to talk about the zombie genre and well, the gender difference. Girls like vampire romances, beauty and the beast, bad boy, hungry man, ggggggrrrrrrrrrlllllllll sexy love and romance movies. Those hopeful tales of true love conquering all. The biggest problem in these flicks? What will the babies be like? Monsters like their Dads? No matter, we’ll love them anyway. The zombie movies that the boys like are entirely different. Post apocalyptic plagues, lead pollutants in your water supply, one surviving antidote, all of man kind perishing, save you (him) and his family that he stoically loves without smiling or revealing as much. He must save the world. Now. Within his lifetime. Those damn silly women are always out there procreating like rabbits filling up houses and suburbs with babies that have more babies and so on and so forth that all need to be saved, by Man, One Special MAN.
After watching To the Wonder, I start a thinkin’ like I do. I’m uncharacteristically unoffended by the portrayal of women, and men in this movie. In fact I can relate to them. The bright twirling dresses, the faith bound hope of church membership, the desire for children, the joy of a new washing machine. I get this. How can I not? I was raised on it, spoon fed like the grass fed cattle on the ranch of hope and desperation. And I mean that in the most twirly of ways. I think of movies that evoke something familiar. OK sit tight, The Sound of Music. I know it might seem silly. But there are meadows and spinning and twirling, and THE DARK BROODING MAN that gets the sweet pretty little nun to stop serving God and sing all day with 8 or 9 of his cherubic, corn fed children. I don’t know, was little Lisl the 9th child, or the 8th, let’s see, Greta, Sprilinka, Hans, Dunkoff, Ninkumpoop, Heindrich, and Sleepy or Dopey…No matter, they will all grow up and have children and ride a bus through the alps singing for their supper, and having more babies and life will go on and on and on, in spite of the DARK BROODING MEN that start wars to ensure the self-fulfilling prophecy of apocalyptic doom and gloom and Gosh darn it someone has to take these things seriously, how the hell can women expect men to come home and talk when the world is ending? How can they take us seriously when we are spinning ourselves into little tizzies of joy and elation because the socks are all matched up and balled and placed in individual laundry baskets that line the laundry room floor?
But for the life of me, and maybe it has something to do with the serotonin rush and euphoric daze caused by spinning, I have permanently slowed down the neurotransmission connectors with all that turbulence, but how on Earth do women today, and even last week and back a decade or three, how is it that we keep raising up our boys to be stress mongering apocalyptic doomsayers, and our girls to be planning a big fancy dress twirling wedding from the time they are old enough to stand up and carry a bouquet?
But enough about the kids. Here’s the bigger question, or the question I know many of my peers, colleagues, confidantes, a couple or so narcissistic bon vivants, friends, and lovers are facing. What do we do when we reach this age of say 40, or 50, or 60 and the kids are already screwed, or like that other flick, The Kids Are Alright, and we aren’t dead yet, and 50 years into it the men are starting to see they were fed a lot of toxic feed and the world isn’t really ending, and even if it does, well they are not in the same tip top shape to help slay the zombies and they might put up a little fight for old time sake, but that’s what the young turks are here for. And the women, we are wanting to be all twirly and have our flaming embers stoked as we ride into the sunset naked without children seeing us or pointing to our privates and asking us annoying questions.
Somehow along the way, we stopped understanding these big vital differences, or the pact that we embraced, and lifted, and placed on the altar of dreams and desires. We let the men believe they were big and strong and everything we needed to make our lives complete. They let us believe a lilting laugh and little twirl could get them to save us from the big bad world filled with all those other twirly women and non-talking men. And now what? It’s hard to keep up this version of the pact and well, our children aren’t around so we tend toward not putting on our game faces and promoting the dream that our children will also aspire to but not quite figure out how to see through, because it’s a bit impossible and we are sick little f’ers for continuing to promote it. (It may not sound it, but I am truly, twirly and happy even in my honest and direct approach at getting to the heart and soul of something, even if I may be caught eating the heart out of it in the process. (Suffice it to say, I’m tactile, I need to experience things full on, hungry like the wolf, or the wolf man, all full of determination and grit and twirl. Or maybe the Terrence Malick thing is offending on some subconscious level of a biologically gendered, inclination toward denial and festering up and through.)
Aha, my subconscious streaming of thoughts and ideas just revealed this to me: we are biologically inclined toward denial. How else do we continue to raise babies and make mountains of hope in a world filled with war, and poverty, and pollution, and poisons? Damn if the men know, they are busy working on new weapons of mass destruction and wondering why you need them to mow the lawn, can’t you see they are slowly dying a thousand deaths. Is it too late to keep pumping that toxically magic fantasy into our tired veins? Can we make up a new pact or reexamine what was in the original? I think Terrence Malick, has come upon something big. Maybe not as big as the Book of Mormon, or the Burning Bush, but something big nonetheless. We need to change things up. Life is different, waaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy different and we need to acknowledge that and embrace it and lift it toward our newly fashioned altars.
When I was a young’un, people didn’t actually live as long as they do now. People died of heart attacks and cancer, most of the time. They didn’t get second and third and maybe fourth chances with the modern scope of medical advances available today. They didn’t get new hips and knees and hearts. They didn’t hike high peaks and run marathons at 50 and 60 and 70 with new knees and hearts and reworked feet. Women didn’t work in the same way we work now, full time, with necessary wages that also provide for the family. We aren’t as dependent on men as we once were, but we still have an innate or ingrained lingering sense that we can’t live without them. Maybe, just maybe, we don’t need to, but we still want to.
Men still carry the burden of stress, real or imagined, it’s still there and it still impacts their health, their outlook on life. They feel under appreciated and maybe even unnecessary. They reach this point when they face the reality that the apocalypse was safely held at bay at least for the next generation and find themselves living with someone that seemed to be twirling and breathing in toxic fumes and wiping snotty noses, but suddenly has a financial portfolio and a 501K that can support them into a couple of wild romps with a few newly hipped models, and how the hell did that happen?
Jon Baskin, writes of the film, in the Los Angeles Review of Books “ Salvation, if there is any, resides in the kinds of commitments that the characters fail over and over to make — to one another, to God, to themselves.” I think another change worth noting, in society, across the genders, is our concept of time. Everything is so fast and instant and gone. Commitment is a term that has changed in etymology. Marriage was a lifelong commitment, back when life was not as long. Adherence to religion and God, is also fluid with fewer palpable consequences for any lack of adherence. A world with pharmaceutical potions and plastic surgery packages to reverse time and aging, make commitments to health and well being a pill or appointment away. But meaningful relationships and deep compassionate connections are not easily borne or sustained. They only work as well as the time and effort given to them. There is no pill or procedure that can change that.
I don’t have all the answers, and I, myself am in the market for an originally hipped, or newly hipped model of my very own, but I do still believe this concept of marriage or gender-blending, or gender identical relationships can work. Call me crazy. I am a true believer, in spite of needing a few test models to see it through. Love deeply. Be twirly around the big strong protective arms of your man. Reinvent, or brush off the old charm, add a few new tricks. Reveal some deep hidden wanderlust, or get out and make a go of it with a wide open heart on the road to new beginnings. Try really hard to imagine that we don’t have to keep these roles in lock-step concordance for a bright or bleak tomorrow that may or may not belong to us. Live today, fully with love and joy. Twirl in the not so toxic meadow of marital bliss or the newly found meadow of another chance. And if that doesn’t work, go all out and introduce wild, erotic, zombie fantasy extravaganzas to rekindle the fires of earlier twirls. For heavens sake, the kids are all gone, loosen up and laugh widely. Remember and Rebuild.
Personally, I am letting go of a lot of old conformities. I’m challenging the system. My flames may or may not be stoked but I’m risking it, and ready for direct and honest let’s meet head on sparks to fly. Winner takes all. I’ll be out twirling and laughing and looking over my shoulders for men and zombies and life giving kisses because I did my laundry and balled up all my socks. It’s Go Time!