Monday, September 30, 2013

Breaking Bad: Feel bad for Skyler

I like what friend and fellow blogger Gunner* has to say about Breaking Bad:

...for a beloved TV show to end on a high note is rare. It's like Breaking Bad broke up with us, and we're used to being the ones that lose interest in a story and watching the next good thing for a while. 

Breaking Bad is one of a minority of TV shows that not only didn't jump the shark but that ended just as strong as it started. Gunner is pointing out that we fans of Breaking Bad didn't get our usual choice of dumping a show when it got weak or sticking with it in the hope that it would get better. Breaking Bad made us want more every time it took a hiatus and many of us would have happily watched it even as it waned, if it had just lasted another season or two. But I'm glad it didn't last another season. It was a singular show, but I felt it ended just when it should have and with completely appropriate and satisfying endings for the various characters, with two big exceptions.

[SPOILERS COMING UP]

The characters I feel the most pity for in the end are Marie and Skyler. Marie is robbed of the satisfaction of seeing Walt pay for his many crimes, two of the worst of which are getting Hank maimed and then killed. Marie deserves much better than she gets, although the finale leads us to believe she'll at least get to recover Hank's body and give him a real burial. (And why didn't Gilligan do more with the Marie character? Remember when she was a klepto? Marie started out much more interesting and then the storyline just forgot about her. She's like a character polyp.)

Anna Gunn as Skyler White
But Skyler really loses everything: her marriage, her home, any life savings they initially had, her peace of mind, her career and her reputation. And for all we know, her relationship with her family is tanked, too. I wonder if Walt at any point considers what his ego trip costs his wife. Skyler, Flynn and Holly would be much better off if Walt didn't start cooking meth. If Walt had died of cancer and left Skyler with thousands of dollars of hospital debts, at least she would have enjoyed her last years with her husband and Flynn would have had good memories of his father. Mother and son wouldn't be left to live in ignominy, plus who's to say Skyler won't still be held accountable for Walt's crimes now that he's dead? Walt's long-term plans go catastrophically wrong and the only decent thing he leaves for Skyler and Flynn is the trust fund from the Schwartz's. In  Skyler's last scene, she looks like she's been smoking instead of eating and pacing instead of sleeping. It looks like it will be a long time before she and Flynn dig their way out of the mess Walt has left them.

Another friend of mine wonders why ever-practical and money-careful Skyler hasn't squirreled away some of that $80 million for just such dire circumstances. It's a good question since Skyler is extremely savvy about finances and -- before this all started -- probably kept some of her own money separate from Walt's in a just-in-case account (many smart wives do that). But I think Skyler's failure to secure a little nest egg for herself and her children is consistent with her character. Sure, Skyler would normally tuck a little away, but she's conflicted about this drug money from the very beginning and I think that moral tension affects her usual common sense. I don't think Skyler ever really believes she's entitled to that money; she simply tends it to keep her husband out of jail and her family together. Constantly conflicted about it, she forgets her usual self-preservation habits. Walt's wild ride that makes him feel so "alive" costs Skyler the most.

I'm aware that many Breaking Bad fans turned all the moral outrage and disgust that they could have felt for Walt onto Skyler. People commented and posted that they hated Skyler, that she was an awful hypocrite and that she should die. I can only figure this was plain old misogyny: fans wanted to identify with Walt so completely that they had to displace his hypocrisy and flawed morality onto his wife. I didn't read enough of the Skyler-hate to form much of an opinion about it, but I find it disturbing that there were many characters in this narrative to dislike, but the worst vitriol was aimed at Marie and Skyler. I like them. In fact, I'm disappointed that the relationship between the two sisters doesn't form more of a focus of the show. Then again, this is really a boys' story and mostly what the two main women characters are given to do is wring their hands and moralize (ahem, Vince Gilligan?).

Walt's goals and decisions suck and the person he does the biggest number on is the person he supposedly wants to benefit most of all. In the end, as he faces off with the Aryan Brotherhood and frees Jesse, Walt manages to strike a heroic pose, but his moral descent actually has no turnaround. As he finally admits in the finale, he did this all for himself because this was a game he played better than anyone else. Selfishly he leaves his family to pay the price, probably for the rest of their lives. Breaking Bad shows an everyman playing out his fantasy of being Jesse James, and how nightmarishly bad that childish single-mindedness turns out for the rest of his family. Pity Skyler, whom Walt leaves with less than nothing.

*Gunner wrote this statement in a personal email to me. He hasn't blogged about Breaking Bad, but he's blogged about many other topics and can be found here: Gunner Saves the World.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Better

Guess what? I'm feeling better. The combination of the tapping and crying I did earlier in the week, having a turbo-level chiropractor visit, re-reading my positive blog posts and support from friends has pulled me out of my crying jag.

Dr. Ashley Frer can work magic. On Tuesday night I told her I was depressed about my divorce and that I'd been crying for days. Dr. Frer does chiropractic corrections and acupuncture on me in each visit, but this time I really got the works. She stuck needles everywhere: arms, hands, legs, head, belly, even the soles of my feet. Yeah, the feet points hurt, but I didn’t care. I just needed help. Dr. Frer also overhauled the supplements I’ve been taking so they'll more directly address my emotional upset, so I came home with all new herbals.

On the way home from that appointment I re-read some upbeat posts on my own blog and remembered how good my life is. Since Tuesday night I’ve been feeling much better.  I haven’t been fighting tears or dragging around in two days and I’m very grateful.

The grieving process will eventually resume, but for now it’s such a relief to have a break. Oh, my god. We really do need a variety of tools to cope with emotional crises. This time, in addition to friends, tapping, writing, and music, I also needed small pieces of metal inserted all over my body with electric current running through them, followed by considering my own words of optimism from a month ago. And I'm good for now.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Re-reading stuff

I've been scraping around for about a week now, missing my post-husband (I call him that because we'll be legally divorced in a few months), feeling the emptiness of my beautiful one-bedroom apartment, crying, EFT tapping, resting and then crying more. I understand this is the normal grieving process one goes through at the end of a marriage, so I'm focusing on giving myself permission to feel what I'm feeling and not scold myself for being emotional.

I'm hugely grateful to my friends and family who are helping to carry me through this. My husband and I had the habit of calling each other a couple of times a day, just to say hi and see how we were doing at work, etc. Since I moved out in July I've really missed that, so I asked my sister if I could start calling her instead. I said it would be just to say hi or tell some bit of news I want to share, and she said yes. It's been going very well. I like our little short talks and Judy likes hearing from me more.

Still, in between talking to others I've been feeling pretty low. I've been wishing I could crawl back into my married life,  even though that life was plagued by dog hair and disappointment. I've been feeling lonelier than I have in a long time and haven't known what to do when my usual coping mechanisms haven't helped (those are: tapping, crying, eating, singing, dancing, watching horror movies, emailing/talking to friends and swallowing Bach Rescue Remedy).

Then by chance, tonight I glanced at a blog post I wrote a month ago about why I like being single. Then I read another one about what I learned from my years as a married person and I started to feel better. Reading the posts I wrote when I was feeling strong about my new singlehood cleared some of my gloom and regret. It's such a simple comfort that if someone had suggested it to me, I would have doubted its worth. By rereading my posts I reminded myself of the joy I felt just a month ago when my single status felt like freedom. I reminded myself that although this pain is truth, so was my joy and that joy will be back.

If you don't have one, start a blog. You never know how it might benefit you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

My hero


And again, after last night's Breaking Bad episode, "Granite State":

Yay, Flynn!

Such a mess and so damn proud

Recently someone who called herself "Deb" commented on one of my posts:

Wow. You are such a mess and so damn proud of it.

I responded, "Thank you," but I actually wish I were proud of it. The truth is that it's not correct to say I'm proud of being a mess, however much it seems like I must be. My blogging is motivated by a desire for connection.

We're all familiar with the relief that comes from knowing you're not the only one who's going through a particular experience. That's what I achieve by sharing my experiences on this blog. I don't always hear directly from readers who commiserate with my depression or my divorce or my struggling self esteem, but blogging is like sending a message in a bottle. It makes me feel a little bit better to know that there's at least some hope that my words will reach someone and make contact.

Even if I don't hear from anyone on a particular post, my blog gets enough hits a day that I know someone's reading it. And even if no one reads it who can identify with my pain, blogging still supports one of my primary goals in life: understanding. I constantly want to understand people: why they feel as they do, what they believe and what makes them act in certain ways. Of course, I'll never understand most people. Their inner mechanisms are beyond my comprehension and often people don't know what drives them, so they can't explain it. Baffled by the world, I shift my focus: if I can't understand someone else, I at least want them to understand me.

This blog is me explaining myself so others can understand me. One of my core beliefs is that understanding leads to safety. I believe that being understood by others is safer for me than not being understood by others. I want to be known. I want you to see how my emotions work because that makes me feel connected to you, even if I never hear from you.

It makes little sense, I know. It's irrational, but that's how I see things. If you want to understand me, I will give you every chance. Am I self-absorbed? Definitely. Exhibitionistic? Sure. Narcissistic? Maybe. But spilling out my problems online is not an act of pride any more than a patient explaining her symptoms to a doctor is acting proud. It's the desire to be understood, especially when that understanding might help heal my pain. Writing these things out is part of how I process my life. You could call my blogging very cheap therapy and I won't argue.

My question, Deb, is: what makes you want to read this?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I hate Walter White

So there.

Breaking Bad: Walt, Jr. AKA Flynn


SPOILER ALERT: Don't read unless you're caught up completely on the American series Breaking Bad. Its series finale airs later this month.

Yay, Aunt Marie for cluing in Flynn and DOUBLE YAY to Flynn for picking up the damn phone and doing what should have been done seasons ago! Christ Jesus on a stick...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

This was written by a man??

Even though the name of the author of this piece is Kevin, I still wasn't sure a guy had written it until he referred to himself as a father. Then I thought, "A man wrote this?? Bra-vo!" The only way I could improve on this blog post would be to replace each use of the word "ladies" with the word "women," but I'll give this guy a pass because what he says is so on target.
 
In his post The 6 Most Shockingly Irresponsible "Fitspiration" Photos, Kevin Moore at Reembody Me calls out the current emphasis of American advertising on women being "strong" and "healthy." It's simply another way to peddle a self-loathing desire to be skinny and he skewers several advertisements directed at women. Please, just read it yourself. It's too good for me to try to summarize.

I feel particularly angry about these advertisements because I know I've been effectively programmed by similar ads and right now I'm particularly vulnerable: such images celebrate youth and trimness when I'm pudgy and midde-aged.

I long for a time when women proudly took their places in the older generation, gracefully accepting the end of their child-bearing years and their well-worn bodies. Even today in other cultures women  experience increased respect and freedom after menopause. They are seen as wise and trustworthy. Old age is attained, not suffered.

Who knows what went wrong in the United States? Seriously, if anyone knows, please direct me to the answer; I'm sure there are writings on the source of Americans' obsession with youth. My pet theory is that as American women achieved greater levels of legal and financial standing in the U.S. the culture became increasingly critical of the natural curves and folds of the feminine body. As women became socially stronger and more independent in the 1960's and '70's, America's demands on the feminine aesthetic became cruelly exacting and impossible. See Twiggy, Farrah Fawcett, Lindsey Wagner and Mary Tyler Moore. Better yet, don't look at them. Just take my word for it: they were rail thin and redefined "a good figure" as no boobs or hips.

These days aesthetic demands on American women haven't gotten any better. They've gone from super skinny in the 70's to skinny and muscular in this century. Yet we keep jumping through the hoops,  learning to dislike our bodies from a very young age and keeping up the self-criticism straight through the time of life when we should be relaxing into our girth, celebrating our accomplishments and setting our sights on goals other than what clothing size we fit into. Finished with dating and mating, we deserve to allow ourselves to look however we look, with a true focus on health rather than appearance.

But self-loathing is powerful and very, very difficult to unearth once it takes root in childhood. I go in and out of periods of not being able to stand what I look like. My recent progress on this front has taken this form: once I realize that I'm sinking into self-hatred, I get angry at myself for it. Yes, that's judging myself for judging myself and it can go several layers deep (add a few more for-judging-myself's).

This is my inner war and I know the true problem isn't that I'm 5 foot 2 inches and weigh 180 pounds. The real problem is that I hated my body even when I weighed 120 pounds, which is to say that I hate my body no matter what I goddamn look like. And I'm sick of it.

I admit that don't actively hate my body every day, but the feeling constantly lurks in the background of whatever I'm doing. If I valued a large salary or a prestigious job or social status or creative achievement, I'm sure I'd beat myself up about those things, but for me my body is the easiest target so that's what I fixate on.

Kevin Moore's post definitely helps. Any critique of the cruel power of American beauty standards helps me feel less stupid for being brainwashed. Images of what we want women to look like in the U.S. really are relentless and unavoidable. As I fight my emotions of self-loathing with emotions of self-love and acceptance, words like Kevin's help me see the insanity of how my country expects me to treat my body. I'm grateful for writers like him because I can use all the support I can get.

Middle-aged, pudgy woman who's still a decent person.  
Photo by Diane Scott.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Horror and dreams

If you don't like being genuinely frightened, don’t watch Grave Encounters (2009) or The Bay (2010). I had a private horror film festival over the weekend and those two movies actually made me jump and shriek and cover my eyes. Of course, I watched them alone in the dark because that’s the way to do it. I also saw Theater Bizarre (2011), but it isn’t frightening as much as it is completely freakish and gory. I can imagine most people hating it, except for those few of us who really love complete weirdness. It was very weird.

And yet, even though I watched these movies last thing before going to sleep, my dreams were unaffected. I'm one of those people who remembers her dreams. Every day I remember my dreams. I can describe for you dreams I had months ago. For some annoying reason my brain really grabs a hold of memories made while I was dreaming and it doesn't let them go.

I'm surprised that my subconscious seems unaffected by images of people being eaten and demons whose faces contort before they chase people down a dark hallway. And the screaming, oh the screaming. You'd think that would seep into my dreams. Nope, I have the same kinds of dreams over and over no matter what.

My dreams: I'm either traveling or I've just arrived in a new place and am settling in. Often I'm going through my belongings, either to pack them or just to clear stuff out. These dreams are hugely about home and family and friends. I often dream a hell of a lot about my husband's dog. Ozzie is a 50-pound black pit bull mix who's the mildest, most affectionate pet I can imagine, but in my dreams he's often being mischievous and I'm trying to get him under control.

I'm really tired of dreaming about that dog. We don't even live in the same place anymore. Does anyone else remember their dreams a lot? Or for a long time?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Breaking Bad: I want Hank to win

[SPOILERS GALORE. Don't read this if you're not up to the  middle of the final season of Breaking Bad.]

Am I the only person in the country (world?) who wants Walter White to pay for all the horrible things he's done? I was on his side for a long time, but at some point I turned. Maybe it was after he poisoned and killed a small boy just to break Jesse's allegiance to Gus. Maybe it was watching Walt ruthlessly manipulate Jesse about their murder of the boy on the bike or watching Walt kill Mike in a fit of childish fury. I'm not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere in there, I began rooting for Hank.

There I said it: I want Hank to nail Walt's ass to the jailhouse wall. Walt is a horrible person, not so much for killing so many people over one year (remember, it's only been one year in Walt-time), but for how cruelly he plays Jesse again and again. I agree that Walt cares about Jesse a great deal and risks his life for him, but it's a sick, sick kind of love. It's a love of ego and pragmatism and sneering superiority. Jesse is the true protagonist of this show. Over four seasons we watch mild-mannered, law-abiding Mr. White descend into the original gangster of megalomania, but we watch Jesse transform from a fronting, two-dimensional drug dealer into a haunted, conflicted sidekick whose soul goes deeper and more pained with every decision Walt drags him into. Jesse's the only character who consistently displays a moral conscience.

We're now a few episodes into the final half of the final season, and I'm stunned by the lack of sympathy for Jesse in the online discussions of Breaking Bad. Is it that everyone loves a winner and since Walt has what it takes to destroy anyone in his way, let's cheer for Team Walt? Have Jesse's heart and emotions worn thin with an American audience that doesn't want to be reminded of its own moral conflicts and inner pain? Are we participating in that heartless calculation that if you're dumb enough to believe XYZ, then you deserve what you get?

If the heart of this series were the relationship between Walt and Skyler, maybe we could keep rooting for them because that's the contract between an audience and a Bonnie-and-Clyde story. But the heart of this series has always been the relationship between Walter and Jesse. Watching them grow to care about each other in spite of themselves was funny and fascinating and gave me hope for the state of Walt's character. But watching Walter tear at the foundation of that partnership again and again, leaving Jesse more broken and isolated each time, has drained all humanity from his character. For Jesse's sake, I want Walter to pay for his shit. I want Hank to win.

Is there anyone out there who agrees with me and has the guts to say it? Please see also my post Breaking Bad: the one I feel bad for is Skyler.