call me by your name

i have become obsessed with this story, all because of clip to Psychedelic Furs. I’m such a sucker for new wave, early 80s music, it’s not even funny. Someone should put a reel together of cauliflower to The Cure, and I will soon only eat cauliflower.

In any case, I’ve read the novel twice and seen the movie once. Safe to say I am obsessed.

The book revolves around one man’s recollection of his first wild summer love affair as a teen in Italy. There are a lot of descriptions of cicada I paid attention to because it’s something that reminds everyone of summer (or many) and yet, it’s not easy to describe in an interesting, original way. The author wrote “frantic cicadas,” which I thought was pretty good.

The film is a smart adaption of a book that’s so interior–the lead character endlessly ponders every angle about the object of his crush, the latest of his father’s interns/writing fellows, an American grad school student visiting for six weeks to finish his book. It takes place in 1983 before AIDS became a full blown annihilation and being gay is still very much a tricky thing.

The first time I read it, I did not sense the threat of coming out of the closet. The second time, I saw it all over the place. The grad student keeps referring and showing a giant boo-boo (sorry, I’m around kids too much and have no idea what else to call it) to the lead character that felt random, but that I now believe is an allusion to the enormous lesions AIDS patients developed.

My friend Becca saw the film before me and described as a portrayal of that passionate first love and I was skeptical at first, I think, because I believe true romance means not continuing a relationship and really getting to know the person — because of course, we are all annoying, sometimes great, sometimes petty, and pretty normal. But if you have a brief affair, it’s superficial, you don’t really have to know the person, and so to me, the concept of the great romance is a pure illusion. Brevity is a key part of the romantic ideal. The movie/novel is being pitched as universal, that great love can happen to anyone and that anyone can relate to this story.

As I get to know the work, I think the fact that this is the love story between two men is crucial. The brevity of their affair is absolutely because it is safer to fit into a heterosexual society. The grad student choose to marry a woman — he might care for her, of course, but I think his character does not explore a deeper connection with the lead character because being gay and out is scary. At least, that’s what seems like. I have never had to go through that so I don’t know if this story is an accurate portrayal of that experience. I have not had to live through that time period where gay men were being exterminated en masse by AIDS. I cannot imagine the devastation of losing so many people in your community, so many friends, all at once. I cannot imagine.

Another note on the movie, the kid playing the protagonist is incredible. So much of the script requires him to be alone. There was a Stanislavesky (spelling?) exercise we used to do in acting class, which was being alone in public. So many of us bombed, needing to feel interesting. It is very hard to sit still on a stage as if you were at home, but this kid does it effortlessly, or seemingly so. There is not a shred of self-consciousness, he is fully at ease on camera and it is amazing to watch. The other actor playing the grad student is far more experienced and quite beautiful and fully commits, and yet I don’t find him charismatic or believable in the part. It’s tough. Talent is talent, you know? But I will give him credit for choosing the part and the PR involved with plugging a film for a year or longer. Taste is part of talent and being able to sound enthused and fresh with the literal same words/stories over and over again is also a talent and sick skill.

chuck e. cheeses, dante’s inferno, 713 tickets

Ahh, motherhood. What’s your most acutely stressful moment? My maternal grandmother met my maternal grandfather on their wedding day when she was, I think, 18. They had six kids. She had had four of them, including my mom, by the time the Korean War broke out. All the men disappeared so that they wouldn’t get recruited by the communist army (i think. My uncle wrote a memoir that explains it better), which left the ladies to evacuate children, and I assume the elderly, on their own. So maybe my maternal ma was in her early 20s or so when she was responsible for leaving Seoul with four kids under the age of five by OX CART. My mom still remembers being four and terrified of the wheels of A WOODEN OX CART and my emo as a baby sitting on top of it, when they had walk by foot to a safer area/city/town — I’m assuming a few hours of walking was involved, a day or more of walking. My mom cracked me up when this was the story she reported on in her writing class for the topic “My First Trip.”

My paternal grandmother, whom I know less about, also had six kids. My paternal grandfather was an inventor and had created some kind of fertilizer (as well as paint for the Japanese military during World War II, SAY WHAT? It’s true some Koreans were not tortured by the Japanese but were actually close to them. My maternal grandfather went to college in Japan and was fluent. He had dreams of being a writer, but who would read novels written in Japanese by a Korean?) When folks defaulted on payments for his product, he was sent to jail (apparently, at the time, if you were bankrupt, you had to go to prison) so she had six kids on her own for a while. (Good god).

My mother has had her own challenges, immigrating to the U.S. to join my dad who went ahead, with a toddler (me), a rice cooker (from the layover in Japan where all the Koreans advised each other to shop since they had the latest and greatest technology), suit cases, and two lung x-rays to prove we do not have tuberculosis and were safe to move on in. (Can you friggin’ imagine? I barely manage to leave my apartment with the kids, sometime Brooklyn, but…arggggh).

My hardest parenting challenge? Chuck E. Cheeses.

Sorry, it’s true! I’m American, middle-class, stable. I’m never moving. My husband participates equally with parenting, so….Chuck E. Cheeses.

I went to my second kid birthday party of the day (mistake) at Chuck E. Cheese (an act of hubris and stupidity). Chuck E. Cheese is equivalent to the ninth ring of hell, Dante’s inferno. Lots of lights, noise, people, shoulder to shoulder, paying for video games, which spit out tickets. After you play, you wait in line to redeem your tickets into a ticket counting machine and they typically malfunction. Then you get on another line to redeem your total number of tickets for a tiny, crappy piece of plastic aka toys. There are never enough tickets, enough turns on the video games, someone usually cries — it’s Vegas for kids and THE KIDS LOVE IT. So because they adore this particular friend who’s birthday it was, because they love the Chuck of the Cheese, I went. I knew what I was getting into with crowds, losing the kids a few times. With parties, guests can get extra tickets, so I waited in line with three bags of tickets for thirty minutes. When it was my turn, I worked steadily and spent twenty minutes to insert 713 tickets, one by one because they were not connected. 713! It was almost like a Buddhist exercise. Like as I kneeled putting in tickets one by one, I asked myself, why am I doing this? Isn’t it cheaper to just buy the prizes? Do I think I’m going to be a better parent doing this? I thought about how Husband would never survive this place. He would have a nervous breakdown in the entryway and refuse to participate, but that he’s smarter than I am in that regard to know how futile these steps were and yet I am so programmed to follow through that I could not walk away, etc. etc. After a crowd gathered to watch my intense ticket feeding, my kids and I Went to the loo en masse, retrieved coats. Fairly close to the kids’ bedtime, we got on line again and got some dumb plastic items the kids promptly forgot about as we left this hellacious prison…it was so awful.

I’ve mentioned some pretty tough mothers. I am their descendent, and my lore of survival, my legacy will be CHUCK E. CHEESES.

thinking fast and slow

I began reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman and realized I was never going to make it. Too bad because it was recommended in “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande and terrific in helping the reading figure out how to make difficult decisions, which as I get older, I’m having to make with greater frequency — questions where there really isn’t one absolute right answer or even any great options, but that I have to answer anyway.

Then a colleague sent me this podcast interviewing the the author, which was a helpful cliff notes version.

I read the transcript and had to review some of the author’s answers a few times. These are the moments where god, I hit the limitations of my brain, the ceiling of my intellect, and I realize I can really only understand so much, but the parts I did absorb were damn fascinating.

His work has led him to believe that beliefs are not based on reasons or logic, even if people can defend or point to “logical” explanations, that people’s beliefs are formed from their personal history, people who they were impressed with growing up. So in light of this past presidential election and the toxic cesspool of contemporary politics, there is no way you can convince someone of your point of view if they don’t already have it. Nobody is logical apparently. There is no such quality as rationality when it comes to the human brain. What any of us believe are constructs.

Isn’t that fascinating? Anyway here are two riveting details from the interview:

Story number 1:

“Well, I mean the main story I’ve been telling, which was in Paris, actually, in Neuilly, which is close to Paris, and that was 1941. I was seven. The Jews were wearing the yellow star, and a curfew had been declared for 6:00. I think, for Jews. And I’d gone to play with a friend, and I was late. So I turned my sweater inside out, and I walked home. And very close to home – actually, I went back to that place last year, out of curiosity, to match it against my memories. I saw, on that street, a German facing me, coming towards me, and the street was otherwise deserted. And that German was wearing a black uniform, and that was the uniform of the SS, and I knew enough to know that they were the worst of the worst. And then he beckoned me and picked me up, and I remember being quite afraid that he would see inside my sweater that I was wearing a yellow star. And then he hugged me very tight, and he put me down and took out his wallet, showed me a picture of a little boy, and gave me some money. And we went out separate ways. That was an impressive story, for me.”

Story number 2:

“But the way that I would see this is that the reasons may have very little to do with the real causes of your beliefs. So the real cause of your belief in a political position, whether conservative of radical left, the real causes are rooted in your personal history. They’re rooted in who are the people that you trusted and what they seemed to believe in, and it has very little to do with the reasons that come to your mind, why your position is correct and the position of the other side is nonsensical. And we take the reasons that people give for their actions and beliefs, and our own reasons for our actions and beliefs, much too seriously.